The Network-Extended Mind

The Network-Extended Mind

Paul R. Smart (University of Southampton, School of Electronics and Computer Science, UK), Paula C. Engelbrecht (University of Southampton, School of Psychology, UK), Dave Braines (Emerging Technology Services, UK), Michael Strub (Dstl Porton Down, UK) and Cheryl Giammanco (Human Research & Engineering Directorate, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-855-5.ch010
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Abstract

Whereas the traditional view in cognitive science has been to view mind and cognition as something that is the result of essentially inner, neural processes, the extended cognition perspective claims that at least some human mental states and processes stem from complex webs of causal influence involving extra-neural resources, most notably the resources of our social and technological environments. In this chapter the authors explore the possibility that contemporary and near-future network systems are poised to extend and perhaps transform our human cognitive potential. They also examine the extent to which the information and network sciences are relevant to their understanding of various forms of cognitive extension, particularly with respect to the formation, maintenance and functioning of extended cognitive systems in network-enabled environments. Their claim is that the information and network sciences are relevant on two counts: firstly, they support an understanding of the mechanisms underpinning socially- and technologically-mediated forms of cognitive extension; secondly, they serve to guide and inform engineering efforts that strive to enhance and expand our cognitive capabilities. The authors discuss the relevance and applicability of these conclusions to current and future research exploring the contribution of network technologies to military coalition operations.
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Introduction

The traditional view in the sciences of the mind sees the human brain as occupying a rather special place in the material fabric associated with the realization of human mental states and processes. One only has to flick through the pages of any contemporary text on cognitive neuroscience to appreciate the considerable dominance of what one might call the ‘neurocentric view’. And it is a view that is reinforced by (and reflected in) a steady stream of brain imaging studies, many of which claim to have isolated the neuroanatomical basis of some aspect of our everyday psycho-cognitive functioning. The traditional view thus sees human mental states and processes as the direct product of what the brain does. It claims that the machinery of the mind is housed largely within the head, and that to understand more about our cognitive profile we need to understand more about how the brain works. Eventually, it is claimed, we will have a complete theory of human cognition, and within this theory the brain will occupy centre-stage.

The validity of this neurocentric, or intra-cranial, perspective has recently been challenged by those who embrace situated, embodied or distributed approaches to cognition (Clark, 1999; Haugeland, 1998; Hutchins, 1995a; Pfeifer & Bongard, 2007; Robbins & Ayded, 2009). Such approaches challenge the notion that mind and cognition are solely internal (neural) phenomena by emphasizing the role played by extra-neural and extra-bodily factors in shaping the profile of much real-world cognitive processing. One view that is perhaps maximally opposed to the internalist or individualistic conception of the human mind (the notion that the mind is the result of purely internal processes) is the thesis of the extended mind (Clark & Chalmers, 1998). This view explicitly endorses the idea that the human mind is not solely the product of what the brain does and that the boundaries of the human mind are not necessarily co-extensive with the biological boundaries of the brain. Instead, the claim is that much of the machinery of the human mind extends beyond the brain to encompass a much larger nexus of extra-neural (and sometimes extra-organismic) resources. According to the extended mind perspective, human mental states and processes are not always in the head; they can sometimes extend beyond the brain to encompass aspects of the external technological and social environment.

Claims about the distributed or extended nature of human cognition are commonplace in the scientific and philosophical literature (Clark, 1997, 2003, 2008; Clark & Chalmers, 1998; Dennett, 1996; Haugeland, 1998; Hollan, Hutchins, & Kirsh, 2000; Hurley, 1998; Hutchins, 1995a; Kirsh, 1996, 2006; Norman, 1993; Wilson, 1994; Wilson & Clark, 2009). But what do such claims really amount to when we consider the potential impact of network systems and technologies on our current cognitive profiles? And what role do the information and network sciences play when it comes to understanding socially- and technologically-mediated forms of cognitive extension? One thing is relatively clear: it is that as we move into an era of pervasive computing and ubiquitous network access, much of our material world is becoming infused with greater computational potential, both for ourselves and the social collectives of which we are a part. If we want to understand the opportunities (as well as the hazards1) for cognitive transformation in this new era, we need to have theories and approaches that are capable of operating at the interfaces of the engineering, cognitive and social sciences. It is our claim, in this chapter, that the information and network sciences are a vital source of such theories and approaches; they are suitably poised to advance our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning socially- and technologically-mediated forms of cognitive extension.

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