Andy Clark and David Chalmers are huge in promoting the extended mind thesis but who/what is their main opposition?


What are the main oppositions to the extended mind thesis? and who presents them?

I am not aware of who else opposes the Extended Mind thesis (in fact, I was unaware of it until I read your inquiry), but I would be an opponent thereof. The following illustrates some of the thesis's incongruities.

1. Twofold Absurdity

Consider some mind. It necessarily resides in one and only one person (several individuals may present a multitude of mental similarities, but that cannot negate the "bijective" relation one mind - one person). One consequence of this bijection is that, to speak in terms of set theory, mind x and mind y are pairwise disjoint for any x<>y.

A person's mind experiences (or produces) one idea at a time. In particular, the person does not perceive two opposites (or two opposite effects) simultaneously. For instance, a reasonable person would never sense/describe a one-color object as being both black and white simultaneously.

Now consider the effect that an imprisonment produces on two individuals, criminal C and victim V, where C is imprisoned for committing crimes against V.

The external object jail aids C's cognition of constraint (a constraint which prevents C from harming V again). Under the Extended Mind thesis, the jail is an extension and part of C's mind. At the same time, that same external object aids V's cognition of liberty (now V can live worry-free about C). Under the Extended Mind thesis, that jail is an extension and part of V's mind as well.

Since, according to the Extended Mind thesis, the jail is part of C's mind and V's mind, the thesis fails the aforementioned attribute that two [persons'] minds are pairwise disjoint. Even if that flaw were acceptable, it would still lead to the additional absurdity that one same piece of mind --the extension which C and V allegedly have in common-- produces two opposite effects simultaneously, since constraint is the opposite of liberty.

2. Extended and Dysfunctional

Apropos of the Otto & Inga fictional illustration in the Wikipedia article, another defect of the Extended Mind thesis is that it seemingly ignores notions of autonomy (an important attribute of a person's mind).

Otto's need for a notebook --to remedy his Alzheimer's disease-- evidences his partial lack of autonomy. The thesis purports that the notebook is an extension of Otto's mind.

Now suppose Otto sequentially losses also other cognitive abilities, whence he becomes dependent on a GPS, a dictionary, an automated assistant to read aloud for him, a machine to aid his muscles so that he can walk, and so forth. The Extended Mind thesis would have to consider all these devices extensions of Otto's mind. But this leads to the irony that the gradual extensions of Otto's are coupled with his [authentic] mind's growing inability.

In this sense, the Extended Mind thesis merely advances an euphemism (cognitive substitution) for an intrinsic inability to perform cognitive processes.

3. The Risk of Greater Impunity

Having been harmed by a criminal who alleges mental illness (so as to avert liabilities in court), I can identify one dangerous ramification if the Extended Mind thesis ever were to gain any traction in the legal system.

The thesis would afford criminals the pretext that the unlawful intent did not reside within themselves, but in their "mind extensions"; be it the matchstick that "instructed" them to commit arson, the gun that "ordered" them to do a mass shooting, or (inline with the defendant's nonsense in my case) the electronic devices that "inform" the defendant that the US government and I "keep spying on and conspiring against" her.


Perhaps the Extended Mind thesis ultimately aspires to present some holistic, "quantum", or pantheistic dialectic. But it is questionable whether its proponents can advance some reasonable, useful view that could compensate for the inconsistencies that the Extended Mind thesis introduces.

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    You are making a straw man out of the extended mind thesis. Chalmers and Clark wouldn't say that a match is part of the mind of the arsonist, or that a jail is part of the criminal's mind. Also, I think you're missing an important point of the thesis in your section 3. Whatever is a part of the extended mind (according to the thesis) is a genuine part of the person. So the criminal cannot legitimately use to the extended mind thesis to argue that the intent resided elsewhere. – Eliran Mar 10 at 23:45
  • @Eliran (1) Jail would be part of a criminal's mind insofar as cognitive reinforcement (reminder) of his physical constraint. Ok, the match is a poor analogy in that a match's "cognitive contribution" is negligible, but that of an "informative" electronic device is not. (2) The Wikipedia example states verbatim "Otto's mind has been extended to include the notebook", yet it would be unreasonable to pretend that a notebook is "a genuine part of the person".(3) Criminals would blame extensions just like they often allege their crime stemmed from mental illness rather than from their true self. – Iñaki Viggers Mar 11 at 0:18
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    Regarding (3), you are missing my point. According to the extended mind thesis, the extension is part of the true self. It is only extended in the sense that it's outside your skull, but it is part of a person's real mind, according to this thesis. And I wouldn't rely on wikipedia for these issues. You should read the original paper. – Eliran Mar 11 at 0:28
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    @Eliran Evidently you yourself have not read the original paper either, and now you are trying to discredit an argument simply because it cites Wikipedia. Once you read the original paper, you will notice it uses the same Otto &Inga example and reaches the same conclusion (section 3 & especially 4). As for (3), you overlook the drawback: The criminal will allege that only the extension should be punished because that is the only part of his/her true self that triggered the criminal activity. Meanwhile the criminal would remain free to resume it. – Iñaki Viggers Mar 11 at 12:10
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    I do not in fact subscribe to the extended mind thesis. Why would you think that? I'm merely trying to point out that it doesn't have the consequences that you think it has. You don't have to accept a position in order to understand it. And you should first understand it before you decide whether to accept or reject it. Anyway, this exchange doesn't seem too productive, so best of luck to you in your philosophical endeavors. – Eliran Mar 11 at 18:16

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