Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension

By Andy Clark | Go to book overview

7
Rediscovering the Brain

7.1 Matter into Mind

Take 390 grams (about 14 oz.) of soft white-gray meat, tweak it, and pummel it, leaving the surface heavily convoluted. Place in a suitable (mobility-enabled) container, and steep for a few years in human society. Let the preparation grow, roam, and mature, and watch in amazement as human thought and reason slowly emerge from the motley pot of bones, muscles, sinews, sense organs, neurons, and synapses. Mental alchemy: meat made mind, and no cosmic cook (not even a Harry Potter) to sprinkle soul dust on the stew.

In this virtuoso display of cognitive unfolding, it would be madness to underplay the role of the biological brain. In the present chapter, I look at a number of worries about recent appeals to embodiment, embedding, and cognitive extension, all of which take, as their points of departure, the incontrovertible fact that we are very smart indeed and the (only slightly more controvertible) fact that the brain is where the major smarts start. Does work that stresses embodiment, embedding, distributed functional decompositions, and the well-groomed cognitive niche systematically distort the role of the biological brain? I shall argue that such worries are largely misguided. Attention to embodied, embedded, and extended cognition is simply what it takes to locate the

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