Language, Mind and Distributed Cognition: A Picture and Some Puzzles

Organized by the Complex Systems Modeling Team of the Computer Research and Applications Group.

Andy Clark, Philosophy - Neuroscience - Psychology program, Washington University.

November 19th, CNLS Conference Room, 10:30am-12:00pm

Human cognition, it has been suggested (e.g. Clark and Chalmers 1998) may sometimes involve processes that extend beyond the boundaries of skin and skull. The cognitive architecture that explains our special kind of smartness may not be the architecture of the basic biological brain, so much as the architecture of a kind of extended hybrid system incorporating biological and non-biological elements, each performing different (but closely matched and complementary) kinds of operation. In this talk I begin by presenting a picture of language itself as the first- and most transformatively potent- cognitive technology. I then pursue this picture, adding examples from (fairly) recent technologies, such as software agents and collaborative filtering. I end by addressing the main worries and criticisms that the picture of extended mentality usually provokes, including the question of the locus of ultimate control (isn't that, at least, in the head? No), a worry about 'cognitive bloat' (how to stop everything looking like part of the mind), and some problems concerning the ideas of individual agency and responsibility.

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Last Modified: November 12, 1999