Philosophy of Cognition: Topic6

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A Brief Intro[edit]

According to the CTM our mind is what our brain does. Analogous to the hardware for a computer, our brain is the physical device on which the mind “runs” like a kind of software. However, if our mind is extended beyond our skull, can we still claim that the mind is what the brain does? What is the role of brain then? What kind of device is it?

The distributed approach to cognition emphasizes a fundamental capacity of human beings: that of distributing cognitive functions to the environment, and subsequently work in concert with it. The brain is not the theater of our cognition - so to say, but it is powerful device enabling us to interact with the environment in a very sophisticated way so as to increase/extend our abilities to solve problems and make decisions. The brain is an extremely sophisticated ecological navigator whose role is to seek out opportunities to make the most of body and world. So, the brain is not meant for running a mind - a kind of sophisticated and working “in isolation” software, which represents the environment in order to act upon it. Conversely, it is a device which solves problems in the environment by using part of the environment itself as a fundamental resource.

To give a more simplified image about the job done by the brain, we may say that our brain doesn't know the answer, but it knows what to do in order to ask the right question. In this sense, our brain is more like an investigator than a painter. The investigator doesn't know the answer, but he or she is equipped with more or less complicated rules to interrogate the environment rather than to represent it.


Imagine that you've just arrived at a place you've never been before. And suppose that you don't have a map and you only know the name of your hotel. How would you behave in such a situation? What distributed forms of cognition would you use?


What is an ecological control?

Who is the shrinking Chooser?

Compulsory readings[edit]

A. Clark, Soft Selves and Ecological Control. In Don Ross, David Spurrett, Harold Kincaid and G. Lynn Stephens (eds), Distributed Cognition and the Will, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2007. Available at:

Recommended readings[edit]

A. Clark, Supersizing the Mind. Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008.