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March 16, 2008



Dear prof. Chalmers:

I would like to know your opinion on Dreyfus' criticism of Clark's extended mind thesis as phenomenologically (not quite embedded and embodied) insufficient. Here I refer to his "Why Heideggerian AI Failed and How Fixing it would Require Making it more Heideggerian", Philosophical Psychology, 20/2, 2007, 247-268, which can be found online:


I had no idea this problem had received this much attention. I thought it was a pet concern of mine. I suppose the cost of maintaining an amateur interest in a subject is that you end up reinventing the wheel :) Anyway, for what it is worth, here is my modest contribution to the theme of 'extended mind' (which I call 'the problem of indexical extent' after the notion of indexicality in your book):

Where is I?

I'd appreciate any thoughts on if and how I've gone off track. Supersizing the Mind is definitely on my reading list now :)



Vadim Vasilyev

Very interesting foreword. But what about your own book, David? Is it true that it will be available on March 28?


Phi: As far as I can tell, Dreyfus doesn't have any objection to the extended mind thesis. He just holds that it is less of a departure from orthodoxy than his Heideggerian ideas, and so that it is insufficiently radical. The first part may well be true.

Vadim: The March date listed on Amazon was some sort of mistake by either Amazon or OUP. The book was never scheduled to be published then. I haven't sent the final version of the manuscript to the press yet. Meantime, most of the papers on which the book is based are available on my website.

Vadim Vasilyev

Thanks, David, for your reply. Hope we'll see your book in the near future anyway.

Jacob Freeze

I noticed in your forward to Clark's book that you use your iPhone to calculate tips.

Is this because you habitually tip some strange percentage, like 13.4%, which inner voices tell you must be calculated to the penny?

In this instance, is the iPhone an extension of the mind, or merely an extension of a neurosis?

It is also possible that you are referring to a part-time job in a French restaurant, where service compris occupies a formal position on the bill, and consequently requires exact calculation.

So when you talk about "calculating tips," are you giving or receiving?

If you're really working as a waiter, then wouldn't it be more efficient to carry a calculator, since it probably isn't convenient to talk on the phone at work anyway? But maybe you're doing double duty as a maitre d' and telephone reservations are coming in all the time.

In this case the iPhone would extend the mind all the way to clairvoyance, and allow you to predict that people you have never seen before will soon appear in the restaurant!

Jacob Freeze

Inflating Clark's "thesis" from nothing to something inevitably goes absurdly wrong in every detail. Calculating tips on an iPhone is just the beginning.

There's nothing here that McLuhan didn't cover fifty years ago... "The wheel is an extension of the foot," and so on.

But apart from being good for a laugh, there's still something offensive about the implication that this clueless rehash belongs in the category of philosophy.

Jacob Freeze

"The Extended Mind" discusses "Otto," an Alzheimer's patient who uses a notebook to help him remember the address of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Otto is constantly using his notebook as a matter of course. It is central to his actions in all sorts of contexts, in the way that an ordinary memory is central in an ordinary life."

So Otto's notebook is part of his "mind" because it's an essential part of the equipment that gets him into the Met.

You could probably say the same thing about Otto's shirt, because the Met is a "No shirt, No shoes, No Service" sort of place, and if Otto weren't wearing a shirt, the disembodied notebook-memory of the museum's address on 53rd Street wouldn't do him any good.

Analogously to the inclusion of the notebook in the mind, the notebook also includes the shirt, because one was useless without the other, and the shirt includes the museum, because Otto might have sat at home in his pajamas if he hadn't planned a trip to the museum.

So what's the exact location of the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

According to David Chalmers, it's in Otto's shirt.

Rob Rupert

Jacob, Perhaps you'd be willing to fill in the following schema in an informative way:

Elements x1-xn constitute a single X-system if and only if...

"It seems obvious to me that all of the x-parts form a coherent X-system" isn't very helpful (or philosophical).

And how about the following:

A cognitive system exists if and only if...

By what principle do we decide whether, when two components contribute causally to a cognitive outcome, there is a single cognitive disposition that the two components jointly instantiate or, instead, only one component instantiates a cognitive disposition -- a disposition to interact with the other so as to produce a cognitive outcome?

I would also like to know how to complete the following:

A structure characterized by a lower-level science (e.g., neuroscience) realizes a given cognitive state S if and only if...

I'd say this is philosophy.

Jacob Freeze

Many thanks to Assistant Professor Rob Rupert for trying to "instantiate" this pitiful thing that he calls "philosophy." Take a dose of jargon, add a few undefined symbols to impress the rubes, and presto! You're in the same business as Parmenides.

But Assistant Professor Rob Rupert's jargoneering doesn't exactly "instantiate a cognitive disposition"... It's more like a clannish exercise in territoriality. Someone reduces David Chalmer's "extended mind" to a shirt that gets Otto into the Met, and a very junior clan-member rushes forward to score some points with the clan-elders by repelling an intruder.

Assistant Professor Rob Rupert is probably performing a valuable service here, like the expendable adolescents assigned to the periphery of a troop of baboons, where they may either repel marauding leopards by whooping and flinging poop, or simply get eaten without much loss to the troop.

But unless Professor David Chalmers is as far gone as Otto, tragically flattered into premature senility by the shameless posturing of lower-ranking baboons, maybe he should reply for himself, because this particular intruder isn't impressed by whooping and flinging poop.

Jacob Freeze

Maybe Rob Rupert deserves a more particular reply, so let's paint a different picture.

A stroller in Central Park notices a game of fairy chess in progress, with pieces like unicorns, arch-bishops, night-riders, and grasshoppers flying around the board in all sorts of strange ways.

"What are you playing," he asks.


"What possible relation can you claim between this board game and the universal mysteries of Heraclitus, or the life-and-death engagement of Socrates?"

"If this isn't philosophy," the players reply, "then show us a check-moot with four inverted unicorns!"

Jacob Freeze

A second look at Rob Rupert's comment reveals unexpected riches in his assignment of a "dispostion" to objects like a notebook that participate in "cognitive systems."

"Are you going to the museum today, Otto?"

"Today my notebook has a sunny disposition, so I'm going to the zoo instead."

Jacob Freeze

Instead of stopping at the semi-conscious anthropomorphism of assigning "dispositions" to a notebook, why not humanize it altogether?

Otto and His Little Mental Friend Chuckles the Notebook Visit a Museum

Otto's little mental friend Chuckles the Notebook is so good at remembering the address of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that it's surprising how often Chuckles gets lost himself!

"Where is my little mental friend Chuckles now?" said Otto. "It's lucky for me that I have another little mental friend to help me remember where I put Chuckles!"

So Otto's little mental friend Ickabod the iPhone tells Otto where Chuckles is hiding, and if Ickabod ever gets lost, there's yet another little mental friend to help Otto find Ickabod.

Students of philosophy may anticipate that some sort of infinite regress may intervene before Otto ever gets to the museum, but luckily for Otto, his butler usually renormalizes the whole mess before any awkward infinities arise, and that brings us to the reactionary moral of our story:

One servant is worth a hundred gadgets.

[Editor's note: Mature readers can find an R-rated version of this story at The_Homunculus_in_Otto']


Jacob, have you noticed that you're having an argument with yourself? And that you're actually losing it?

mitchell porter

Jacob, do you have a positive notion of what the mind is? A theory of your own, so to speak? This notion of an 'extended mind' that includes notebooks and iPhones is just a symptom of the disappearance of the mind from natural science. The brain just looks like a cluster of information devices, and 'mind' becomes a term with no objective referent. Our blog host at least has taken a stand in favor of the existence of consciousness, but he's wedded enough to the existing scientific picture of cognition as consisting of substrate-indifferent streams of information processing that he supposes consciousness to supervene on or inhere in them even when they pass far beyond the body. That may sound like magical thought, but science, as it is, doesn't give him any principled reason to distinguish between information processing as done by neurons and information processing as done by transistors.

Jacob Freeze

Mitchell: Since you're apparently asking a real question, instead of making a crude territorial display like Rob Rupert, or transplanting a punchline from a joke you didn't quite understand, like "Neil," I would like to answer you as directly as I can.

I noticed that you have a survey of Functionalism online, and it's probably a good idea for me to think it over and get back to you in a day or two. The survey is interesting in itself, and it also offers some hope that I may be able to answer you, instead of some internet entity only defined by a small set of ASCII characters.

Jacob Freeze

Whoops! What I though was Mitchell Porter's survey of Functionalism is actually an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, so I'm not quite as заинтриговано. The survey itself isn't terrible, and it's very flattering about David Chalmers and his "zombies."

No, Mitchell, I don't have "a positive notion of what the mind is," and my attitude about it is a lot closer to the Pixies' great song "Where is My Mind" ( than anything you're likely to encounter in "cognitive science."

[Let's take a short break here and follow that YouTube link to the Pixies, and if any undergraduate pre-majors in philosophy happen to wander into this thread, all I can say is... Drop out, buy yourself a guitar, and give yourself at least of chance of creating something amazing instead of resigning yourself to writing horse-shit essays about "zombies" for the rest of your life.]

I don't have "a positive notion of what the mind is," and as far as I can tell, there's no such "positive notion" in Heidegger or Wittgenstein either, although Herbert Dreyfus keeps trying to sell Heideggarian trinkets to the deculturated mob in "cognitive science," and the Wittgenstein industry has so many electrodes attached to the corpse of that poor suffering freak that they could probably parade him around academe as a mentalistic zombie if such a thing would produce another assistant professorship for their clique.

I can't agree with your contention about "the disappearance of the mind from natural science," Mitchell, since something very like the mind figures prominently in the foundations of quantum mechanics as developed by prominent theoreticians like John Archibald Wheeler and Hugh Everett III, whose son Mark Oliver Everett wrote us another great song to wrap up this musical post with an unusually gratifying non sequitur:

Have a beautiful day!

Jacob Freeze

David Chalmers has posted some photos from his 42nd birthday party, little suspecting that the ghost of Walter Benjamin might float onto his blog with some awkward but not pointless reflections on the kinship among all artefacts arising out of the same cultural milieu.

Anyone sufficiently knowlegeable about "cognitive science" to appreciate its stylistic affinity with a petit bourgeois costume party is probably also so heavily invested in the field that this post will arouse in him or her the same horror and loathing depicted by Paolo Uccello in The Desecration of the Host, but on behalf of all the undergraduates who have been disappointed by the miserable thing that masquerades as philosophy in English-language universities, it's still worth mentioning that many of these innocents walk into "philosophy" classes expecting something like this, but what they get is something more like this.

Seth Miller

Hi David and everyone-
For those that are interested, I have written a review of Supersizing the Mind and posted it here.

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