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Extended Cognition

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V049-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2019
Retrieved July 19, 2024, from

Article Summary

Extended cognition takes the idea that your mind is ‘on’ your smartphone literally. It says that human cognitive states and processes sometimes spill outside our heads and into objects in our environment. Alleged examples include not just smartphones, but also the use of simpler technology (pencil and paper to perform a calculation), our own body (ticking off on our fingers when we count), and other people (our spouse who remembers appointments so that we do not have to).

There are three main arguments for extended cognition:

Functionalist arguments rely on similarities in functional structure between extended processes and (actual or possible) internal cognitive processes. Cognition extends because the physical mechanisms that support it ‘work in the same way’ in both cases. Inference to the best explanation arguments canvas the benefits that extended cognition would bring to psychology. We should believe that cognition extends because it would make our psychological theories more unified, elegant, and fruitful. Second-wave arguments emphasise the ways in which our brains integrate with our environment. Cognition extends because brains, bodies, and environment are so tightly intertwined that, when we solve certain cognitive tasks, they count as a single system.

Extended cognition is attacked on many fronts. It has been claimed that it generates absurdly high levels of extension (‘cognitive bloat’); that it is inferior to the more conservative hypothesis of embedded cognition; that its arguments confuse causal coupling with constitution; and that its alleged cases fail to satisfy some proposed mark of the cognitive.

Extended cognition concerns only the cognitive, information-processing aspects of mental life. It has, however, inspired similar claims about extension for other aspects of the mind, including conscious experience, emotions, moods, intentional agency, knowledge, and the self.

Extended cognition is part of a wider ‘4E cognition’ research programme. The four Es stand for extended, embedded, embodied, and enactive cognition. Each E offers a closely related, albeit distinct perspective on the role of the environment in cognition. Other forms of externalism about the mind – content externalism, direct realism about perception, collective intentionality, and group cognition – are less closely related to extended cognition.

Citing this article:
Sprevak, Mark. Extended Cognition, 2019, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V049-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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