Here’s the philosopher David Chalmers, arguing that it’s time we expand our definition of the “mind”:
“The key idea is that when bits of the environment are hooked up to your cognitive system in the right way, they are, in effect, part of the mind, part of the cognitive system. So, say I’m rearranging Scrabble tiles on a rack. This is very close to being analogous to the situation when I’m doing an anagram in my head. In one case the representations are out in the world, in the other case they’re in here. We say doing an anagram on a rack ought be regarded as a cognitive process, a process of the mind, even though it’s out there in the world.”
This is where the iPhone comes in, as a more contemporary example of how the extended mind works.
“A whole lot of my cognitive activities and my brain functions have now been uploaded into my iPhone. It stores a whole lot of my beliefs, phone numbers, addresses, whatever. It acts as my memory for these things. It’s always there when I need it.”
Chalmers even claims it holds some of his desires.
“I have a list of all of my favorite dishes at the restaurant we go to all the time in Canberra. I say, OK, what are we going to order? Well, I’ll pull up the iPhone – these are the dishes we like here. It’s the repository of my desires, my plans. There’s a calendar, there’s an iPhone calculator, and so on. It’s even got a little decision maker that comes up, yes or no.”
It sounds crazy, right? That’s because we locate consciousness entirely in the brain, in the three pounds of wet stuff inside the head. We digest food with our stomach and intestines, and we “exist” only because a 100 billion neurons are arranged in a particular cellular sequence. This “astonishing hypothesis” is now just common sense.
There’s nothing about this piece of paper in my hand, taken in isolation, that makes it one dollar. It would be ludicrous to search for the physical or molecular correlates of its monetary value. The monetary value, after all, is not intrinsic to the piece of paper itself, but depends on the existence of practices and conventions and institutions. The marks and francs and pesos or lire in your wallet didn’t change physically when they, from one day to the next, ceased to be legal tender. The change was as real as it gets, but it wasn’t a physical change in the money.
Noe provocatively suggests that the conscious mind can only exist as an extended organ, stuffed to the brim with language and other by-products of culture. A brain by itself is like a euro in America: mostly useless.
So here’s the question: is the brain like money or is it like the intestines? Can the function of the organ be understood in isolation? That’s a question I don’t think most scientists think enough about. I guess that’s why we have philosophers.