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Externalism

Externalism

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Externalism is a group of positions in the philosophy of mind
Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem, i.e...

 which hold that the mind is not only the result of what is going on inside the nervous system
Nervous system
The nervous system is an organ system containing a network of specialized cells called neurons that coordinate the actions of an animal and transmit signals between different parts of its body. In most animals the nervous system consists of two parts, central and peripheral. The central nervous...

 (or the brain
Brain
The brain is the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals—only a few primitive invertebrates such as sponges, jellyfish, sea squirts and starfishes do not have one. It is located in the head, usually close to primary sensory apparatus such as vision, hearing,...

) but also of what either occur or exist outside the subject. It is often contrasted with internalism which holds that the mind emerges out of neural activity alone. Externalism articulates the belief that the mind is not just the brain or what the brain does.

There are different versions of externalism based both on the strength of the relation, and on what the mind is taken to be. William Lycan
William Lycan
William G. Lycan is a noted American philosopher teaching at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,where he is the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor. He won the Class of 2001 Outstanding Faculty Award and a Distinguished Teaching Award for Post-Baccalaureate Instruction in...

 wrote, “Since Twin Earth was discovered by American philosophical-space explorers in the 1970s” externalism subdivided into several variants described by Mark Rowlands. Externalism stresses the importance of factors external to the nervous system. At one extreme, the mind could possibly depend on external factors. At the opposite extreme, the mind depends necessarily on external factors. The most extreme form of externalism maintains that the mind is either constituted or identical with physical processes partially or totally external to the nervous system.

Another important criterion is which aspect of the mind is addressed. Some externalists focus on purely cognitive aspects of the mind (Andy Clark and David Chalmers, Shaun Gallagher, and many others), while some tackle either the phenomenal aspect of the mind or the conscious mind itself. A few consider only the phenomenal content, such as William Lycan, Alex Byrne or Francois Tonneau, and others also argue the role of the mind as a vehicle of mental phenomenal activity, such as Teed Rockwell, or Riccardo Manzotti.

One last important differentiating factor is whether what is external to the mind is the content or the vehicle of the mind.

Proto-externalists


To this group belong many authors who weren’t dubbed as externalist but whose work suggested views not too far from current forms of externalism.

The first group of protexternalists to consider is the group of neorealists active at the beginning of 1900.
In particular, Edwin Holt
Edwin Holt
Edwin Bissell Holt was a professor of philosophy and psychology at Harvard from 1901–1918. From 1926–1936 he was a visiting professor of psychology at Princeton University....

 suggested a view of perception that considered the external world as constitutive of mental content. His rejection of representation paved the way to consider the external object as being somehow directly perceived: “Nothing can represent a thing but that thing itself”
Holt’s words anticipated by almost a century the famous anti-representationalist slogan by Rodney Brooks
Rodney Brooks
Rodney Allen Brooks is the former Panasonic professor of robotics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since 1986 he has authored a series of highly influential papers which have inaugurated a fundamental shift in artificial intelligence research...

 "The world is its best representation".
Recently, neorealist views were refreshed by Francois Tonneau who wrote that “According to neorealism, consciousness is merely a part, or cross-section, of the environment. Neorealism implies that all conscious experiences, veridical or otherwise” (Tonneau 2004, p. 97)

Another author to be taken into account is Alfred North Whitehead
Alfred North Whitehead
Alfred North Whitehead, OM FRS was an English mathematician who became a philosopher. He wrote on algebra, logic, foundations of mathematics, philosophy of science, physics, metaphysics, and education...

, whose process ontology is a form of externalism since it endorses a neutral ontology, whose basic elements (prehension, actual occasions, events, and processes) seamlessly proceeded from microscopic activity up to the highest level of psychological and emotional life. Although the main Whitehead text is rather difficult
, recently David Ray Griffin
David Ray Griffin
David Ray Griffin is a retired American professor of philosophy of religion and theology. Along with John B. Cobb, Jr., he founded the Center for Process Studies in 1973, a research center of Claremont School of Theology which seeks to promote the common good by means of the relational approach...

 wrote an interesting update on Whitehead's thought
.

Also, John Dewey
John Dewey
John Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Dewey was an important early developer of the philosophy of pragmatism and one of the founders of functional psychology...

 expressed a conception of the mind and its role in the world which is very sympathetic with externalism (Dewey 1925).

More recently, James J. Gibson defended an ecological view of perception and thus of many aspects of the mind

. He re-formulated several notions of various cognitive processes which are customarily internal to the brain. Two clear examples are optical flow
Optical flow
Optical flow or optic flow is the pattern of apparent motion of objects, surfaces, and edges in a visual scene caused by the relative motion between an observer and the scene. The concept of optical flow was first studied in the 1940s and ultimately published by American psychologist James J....

 and information
Information
Information in its most restricted technical sense is a message or collection of messages that consists of an ordered sequence of symbols, or it is the meaning that can be interpreted from such a message or collection of messages. Information can be recorded or transmitted. It can be recorded as...

. For Gibson the optical flow is not the computation of the spatial derivatives of the images acquired but the retina as in the classic computational view of the mind championed by David Marr

and many others, rather the optical flow is an environmental dynamic manifold into which the agent is moving. In Gibson's system, information gets a twist, too, and it is relocated at an ecological level. Gibson introduced the notion of affordance
Affordance
An affordance is a quality of an object, or an environment, which allows an individual to perform an action. For example, a knob affords twisting, and perhaps pushing, while a cord affords pulling...

 which is external to the agent as such being the potential causal engagement between the body of the agent and some other object.

Gregory Bateson
Gregory Bateson
Gregory Bateson was an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields. He had a natural ability to recognize order and pattern in the universe...

 also outlined an ecological view of the mind.
Because of his background in cybernetics, he was familiar with the notion of feedback that somehow hampers the traditions separation between the inside and the outside of a system. He questioned the traditional boundary of the mind and tried to express an ecological view of it, attempting to show that the chasm between mind and nature is much less obvious than it seems.

Semantic externalism


Semantic externalism
Semantic externalism
In the philosophy of language, semantic externalism is the view that the meaning of a term is determined, in whole or in part, by factors external to the speaker. According to an externalist position, one can claim without contradiction that two speakers could be in exactly the same brain state at...

 is the first form of externalism which was dubbed so. As the name suggests it focuses on mental content of semantic
Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 nature.

Semantic externalism suggests that the mental content does not supervene on what is in the head. Yet the physical basis and mechanisms of the mind remain inside the head. This is a relatively safe move since it does not jeopardize our beliefs of being located inside our cranium. Hilary Putnam
Hilary Putnam
Hilary Whitehall Putnam is an American philosopher, mathematician and computer scientist, who has been a central figure in analytic philosophy since the 1960s, especially in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophy of science...

 focused particularly on intentionality between our thoughts and external state of affairs – whether concepts or objects. To defend his position, Putnam developed the famous Twin Earth thought experiment. Putnam expressed his view with the slogan "'meanings' just ain't in the head."

In contrast, Tyler Burge emphasized the social nature of the external world suggesting that semantic content is externally constituted by means of social, cultural, and linguistic interactions.

Phenomenal externalism


Phenomenal externalism extends the externalist gist to phenomenal
Phenomenon
A phenomenon , plural phenomena, is any observable occurrence. Phenomena are often, but not always, understood as 'appearances' or 'experiences'...

 content. Fred Dretske
Fred Dretske
Frederick Irwin Dretske is a philosopher noted for his contributions to epistemology and the philosophy of mind. His more recent work centers on conscious experience and self-knowledge. Additionally, he was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize in 1994...

 (Dretske 1996) suggested that “The experiences themselves are in the head (why else would closing one's eyes or stopping one's ears extinguish them?), but nothing in the head (indeed, at the time one is having the experiences, nothing outside the head) need have the qualities that distinguish these experiences.” (Dretske 1996, p. 144-145). So, although experiences remain in the head, their phenomenal content could depend on something elsewhere.

In similar way, William Lycan
William Lycan
William G. Lycan is a noted American philosopher teaching at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,where he is the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor. He won the Class of 2001 Outstanding Faculty Award and a Distinguished Teaching Award for Post-Baccalaureate Instruction in...

 defended an externalist and representationalist view of phenomenal experience. In particular, he objected to the tenet that qualia
Qualia
Qualia , singular "quale" , from a Latin word meaning for "what sort" or "what kind," is a term used in philosophy to refer to subjective conscious experiences as 'raw feels'. Examples of qualia are the pain of a headache, the taste of wine, the experience of taking a recreational drug, or the...

 are narrow.

It has been often held that some, if not all, of mental states must have a broad content, that is an external content to their vehicles. For instance, Frank Jackson
Frank Jackson
Frank Jackson is the name of:* John Jackson , full name Frank John Jackson, British Conservative Member of Parliament 1959–1964...

 and Philippe Pettit stated that “The contents of certain intentional states are broad or context-bound. The contents of some beliefs depend on how things are outside the subject” (Jackson and Pettit 1988, p. 381)

However, neither Dretske nor Lycan go far as to claim that the phenomenal mind extends literally and physically beyond the skin. In sum they suggest that phenomenal contents could depend on phenomena external to the body, while their vehicles remains inside.

The extended mind


The extended mind model suggests that cognition is larger than the body of the subject. According to such a model, the boundaries of cognitive processes are not always inside the skin. “Minds are composed of tools for thinking” (Dennett 2000

, p. 21). According to Andy Clark, “cognition leaks out into body and world”. The mind then is no longer inside the skull, but it is extended to comprehend whatever tools are useful (ranging from notepad and pencils up to smartphones and usb memories). This is in a nutshell the model of the extended mind
Extended mind
The Extended Mind is a book in the field of philosophy of mind edited by Richard Menary. It contains several papers by different philosophers....

.

. When someone uses pencil and paper to compute large sums, cognitive processes extend to the pencil and paper themselves. In a loose sense, nobody would deny it. In a stronger sense, it is rather controversial whether the boundaries of the cognitive mind would extend to the pencil and paper. For most of the proponents of the extended mind, the phenomenal mind remains inside the brain. While commenting on Andy Clark’s last book Supersizing the Mind

, David Chalmers asks “what about the big question: extended consciousness? The dispositional beliefs, cognitive processes, perceptual mechanisms, and moods […] extend beyond the borders of consciousness, and it is plausible that it is precisely the nonconscious part of them that is extended.” (Chalmers 2009

, p. xiv)

Enactivism and embodied cognition


Enactivism and embodied cognition
Embodied cognition
Philosophers, psychologists, cognitive scientists and artificial intelligence researchers who study embodied cognition and the embodied mind believe that the nature of the human mind is largely determined by the form of the human body. They argue that all aspects of cognition, such as ideas,...

 stress the tight coupling between the cognitive processes, the body, and the environment

. Enactivism builds upon the work of other scholar which could be considered as cases of proto externalist such as Gregory Bateson
Gregory Bateson
Gregory Bateson was an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields. He had a natural ability to recognize order and pattern in the universe...

, James J. Gibson, Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Maurice Merleau-Ponty was a French phenomenological philosopher, strongly influenced by Karl Marx, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger in addition to being closely associated with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir...

, Eleanor Rosch
Eleanor Rosch
Eleanor Rosch is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in cognitive psychology and primarily known for her work on categorization, in particular her prototype theory, which has profoundly influenced the field of cognitive psychology...

 and many others. It suggests that the mind is either dependent on or identical with the interactions between the world and the agents.
For instance, Kevin O’Regan and Alva Noe
Alva Noë
Alva Noë is an externalist philosopher and university professor. The main focus of his work is the theory of perception and consciousness...

 in a seminal paper suggested that the mind is constituted by the sensory-motor contingency between the agent and the world. A sensory motor contingency is an occasion to act in a certain way and it results from the matching between environmental and bodily properties. To a certain extent a sensory-motor contingencies strongly resembles Gibson’s affordances. Eventually, Noe developed a more epistemic version of enactivism where the content is the knowledge the agent has as to what it can do in a certain situation. In any case he is an externalist when he claims that “What perception is, however, is not a process in the brain, but a kind of skilful activity on the part of the animal as a whole. The enactive view challenges neuroscience to devise new ways of understanding the neural basis of perception and consciousness” (Noë 2004

, p. 2). Recently Noe published a more popular and shorter version of his position
.

Enactivism receives support from various other correlated views such as embodied cognition
Embodied cognition
Philosophers, psychologists, cognitive scientists and artificial intelligence researchers who study embodied cognition and the embodied mind believe that the nature of the human mind is largely determined by the form of the human body. They argue that all aspects of cognition, such as ideas,...

 or situated cognition
Situated cognition
Situated cognition poses that knowing is inseparable from doing by arguing that all knowledge is situated in activity bound to social, cultural and physical contexts....

. These views are usually the result of the rejection of the classic computational view of the mind which is centered on the notion of internal representations.
Enactivism receives its share of negative comments particularly from neuroscientists like Christoph Koch (Koch 2004

, p. 9): “While proponents of the enactive point of view rightly emphasize that perception usually takes place within the context of action, I have little patience for their neglect of the neural basis of perception. If there is one thing that scientists are reasonably sure of, it is that brain activity is both necessary and sufficient for biological sentience.”
To recap, enactivism is a case of externalism, sometimes restricted to cognitive or semantic aspects, some other times striving to encompass phenomenal aspects. Something that no enactivist has so far claimed is that all phenomenal content is the result of the interaction with the environment.

Recent forms of phenomenal externalism


There are versions of externalism who suggest explicitly that also phenomenal content as well as the mental process are partially external to the body of the subject. The authors considering these views wonder whether not only cognition but also the conscious mind could be extended in the environment. While enactivism, at the end of the day, accepts they standard physicalist ontology that conceives the world as made of interacting objects, these more radical externalists consider the possibility that there is some fundamental flaw in our way to conceive reality and that some ontological revision is indeed unavoidable.

Teed Rockwell recently published a wholehearted attack against all forms of dualism
Dualism
Dualism denotes a state of two parts. The term 'dualism' was originally coined to denote co-eternal binary opposition, a meaning that is preserved in metaphysical and philosophical duality discourse but has been diluted in general or common usages. Dualism can refer to moral dualism, Dualism (from...

 and internalism and proposed that the mind emerges not entirely from brain activity but from an interacting nexus of brain, body, and world. He accused neuroscience of endorsing a form of Cartesian materialism – an indictment issued also by many others. Dwelling on John Dewey
John Dewey
John Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Dewey was an important early developer of the philosophy of pragmatism and one of the founders of functional psychology...

’s heritage, he argues that the brain and the body bring into existence the mind as a behavioral field in the environment.

Ted Honderich
Ted Honderich
Ted Honderich is a Canadian-born British philosopher, Grote Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic, University College London and Visiting Professor, University of Bath...

 is perhaps the one with the longest experience in the field. He defends a position he himself dubbed radical externalism perhaps because of its ontological consequences. One of his main examples is that "what it actually is for you to be aware of the room you are in, it is for the room a way to exist." According to him, perceptual consciousness is a way for the world to exist “Phenomenologically, what it is for you to be perceptually conscious is for a world somehow to exist”. As a result he identifies consciousness with existence.

A rather radical form of phenomenal externalism is the view called the spread mind by Riccardo Manzotti. He suggests questioning the separation between subject and object. Such a separation between the world and experience can be set aside because what we consider objects and their phenomenal representations are only two incomplete perspectives and descriptions of the same physical process. This could be done, he argues, adopting a process ontology that endorses a mind spread physically and spatio-temporally beyond the skin. Objects are no longer autonomous as we know them, but rather actual processes framing our reality.

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