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March 13, 2010 8:21 PM   Subscribe

There is now empirical evidence for the Extended Mind hypothesis. (See also this related pdf)
posted by anotherpanacea (74 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
So interesting. I've noticed this when having to tutor people who weren't very familiar with computers in doing basic tasks, and thinking about why I can pick up things quicker than they can. Or why, when editing video for the first time with another girl who had very little experience with computers, it seemed intuitive to me and next to impossible for her. The answer I imagined was just like this, but I didn't know how to articulate it. I would so love to dive into this if I didn't have a really long stupid paper due on Monday morning. It's interesting that this paper was written by philosophy people. I had hoped that this is the kind of thing I would learn about in Human-computer Interaction but instead we learn about Fitts' law over and over and over.
posted by amethysts at 8:34 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe this will put a bullet in the head of internal corporate applications with crappy interfaces.

Probably not.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:36 PM on March 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Having read the abstract (but not, I concede, the full paper) and the Wired article, the gist of this seems to be:

1. When the mouse functions normally, the motion of your hand can be graphed, whereupon we see that it corresponds to the famous 1/f frequency
2. When the mouse briefly functions abnormally, the motion of your hand no longer corresponds to the 1/f frequency.

Am I missing something? I fail to see how this licenses the conclusion that “the tool isn’t separate from you. It’s part of you." I am sympathetic to the Extended Mind Hypothesis, but this seems like a big inferential leap?
posted by mellifluous at 8:44 PM on March 13, 2010


“The person and the various parts of their brain and the mouse and the monitor are so tightly intertwined that they’re just one thing,” said Anthony Chemero, a cognitive scientist at Franklin & Marshall College. “The tool isn’t separate from you. It’s part of you.”... Chemero’s experiment, published March 9 in Public Library of Science, was designed to test one of Heidegger’s fundamental concepts: that people don’t notice familiar, functional tools, but instead “see through” them to a task at hand, for precisely the same reasons that one doesn’t think of one’s fingers while tying shoelaces. The tools are us.

Ok, stickler here. This doesn't show that the "tools are us", or that the person and the mouse "become a single object". It shows that body parts and mouse are treated as being the same by the person's brain. We don't need bullshit hyperbole to find this result interesting.

Cool results, thanks for posting.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:45 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can someone explain the difference between all the differently-coloured noises? And how that ties in to Heidegger?
posted by greatgefilte at 8:48 PM on March 13, 2010


This doesn't show that the "tools are us", or that the person and the mouse "become a single object". It shows that body parts and mouse are treated as being the same by the person's brain. We don't need bullshit hyperbole to find this result interesting.

Would you also object to someone saying that hands and the body are a single object, or that our hands are us, etc?

Because the way I see it, our hands "are us," and the person and the hands are a single object with regards to how they're treated by the brain.

So when the brain treats the mouse in the same way it treats our hands, couldn't you say the same thing?

I didn't consider it "bullshit hyperbole" as much as it was just another way to say the same thing you just said.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 8:54 PM on March 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


While I agree that this is evidence for Heidegger's theory, I'm not sure that this is the first experiment that tests this. Injecting (either spatial or temporal) noise between a subject's response and the feedback observed is a very common manipulation in psychophysics and seems to be very similar to the manipulation in this study. Off the top of my head, in one study subjects were instructed to track a moving dot with a pen, but could not see the pen or the dot. They could only see a representation of both things on a screen. When the experimenters artificially manipulated how the motion of the physical pen translated to the observed feedback on the screen, they observed similar deficits to the ones described here. If one were to go back to that dataset and reanalyze it with this FPP study in mind, I'd wager that you'd find very similar results. Still, one of the key differences between the FPP study and the study I mentioned is the duration of the manipulation of the control system, which may be important in teasing out the variation in behavior. It's unclear to me why that would have a difference, but it may be important. Regardless, this is a pretty cool effect.
posted by scrutiny at 8:57 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can someone explain the difference between all the differently-coloured noises?

White noise is totally random - zero structure, pink noise is frequency dependent.

That's it for colored noises!
posted by scrutiny at 8:58 PM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


The way I heard it, white noise is equal amplitude at all frequencies. Pink noise is equal power at all frequencies. (Or vice versa.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:03 PM on March 13, 2010


Another angle on the same thought: the rational mind is a relatively thin layer on top of a billion or so years of evolution, and we can arrange the things around us to take better advantage of the incredible computation capability of the various layers of animal brain. The Tetris example specifically is being smart and using the pattern-recognition circuitry we all have as a tool; mental rotations are much slower than spinning the piece on screen to see if it fits.

It's hacking your own brain, using the resources you have in ways that were never needed before the advent of the conscious mind.

Yet another angle on this is a post I made almost two years ago, about the extreme plasticity of the mind when presented with new sensory inputs. That may be even stronger support than the first two links in this thread.... these links are showing that the mind extends itself to consider tools as parts of the body, but those links showed that the mind embraces brand-new senses as well.
posted by Malor at 9:08 PM on March 13, 2010


colors of noise

also, chocolate pickle: it is equal power at all frequencies vs. equal power for all octaves
posted by idiopath at 9:09 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Quick noise colors anaology: white noise is like the static on your TV, while pink noise is like the sound of the ocean, way bottom-heavier and more massive sounding.
posted by SteelyDuran at 9:12 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, er, how does the sound of the ocean correlate with using a non-functional mouse?
posted by greatgefilte at 9:13 PM on March 13, 2010


A professor I had used this example: people don't say "he hit my car!", they say "he hit me!".
posted by katerschluck at 9:14 PM on March 13, 2010 [17 favorites]


*analogy

Also, after reading the link posted by idiopath, pink noise is more waterfall-sound, brown noise is way more oceanic.
posted by SteelyDuran at 9:15 PM on March 13, 2010


Cars.
posted by humannaire at 9:16 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


the person and the hands are a single object with regards to how they're treated by the brain.
-CitrusFreak

sure, but notice the qualification there.
If the disputed hypothesis is "the mouse and the person become literally one object", then this experiment doesn't settle the question, because all this experiment can show is that the person and the mouse are treated by the brain as if they were a single object.

The experiment can't address the disputed hypothesis except by adding a further premise: "if the brain treats things as being a single object then they are literally a single object, full stop, no qualifications" -- but why would we accept that premise?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:19 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Existential phenomenology FTW! (My existentialist-atheist-methodist-minister-professor used to say that the world would eventually catch up to existential phenomenology, maybe about a hundred years after the fact. Depending on when you think that philosophical movement began, we could be a bit early or a bit late.)
posted by treepour at 9:31 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


greatgefilte: "how does the sound of the ocean correlate with using a non-functional mouse?"

They claim that the background noise in the nervous system has a pink noise characteristic when you are functionally using a mouse, and has a white noise characteristic when the mouse is malfunctioning. They go on to say that this change in the type of background noise, which correlates with a change in performance in a cognitive test, shows the difference between "readiness-to-hand" and "unreadiness-to-hand".
posted by idiopath at 9:34 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


This empirical evidence suggests that Heidegger was right, but you never hear from the researchers studying Sartre's three existential emotions; anguish, forlornness, and despair.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:35 PM on March 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't really think this research has much application to AI, for one thing it's just proving something people have already been assuming. I do like this acronym though:
These remarks also point to Dreyfus's critique of artificial intelligence, at least as it was practiced in the 1960s and 1970s in what Haugeland calls Good Old Fashioned AI (GOFAI). In GOFAI, a system's knowledge of the environment is represented as a series of logical propositions. Thus, a GOFAI system's representation of a hammer might include the following...
posted by delmoi at 9:56 PM on March 13, 2010


Lobstermitten, are you assuming that objects are definitively delineated? Many philosophers will argue that what constitutes an object is essentially arbitrary. In other words there are no joints in nature; objects are demarcated by us solely for our own purposes. If this view is right, then there is no reason not to think of the mouse and the hand as a single object.

Or we could argue by analogy a bicycle is an object but the physical connection between a wheel and a tire is really no different than the physical connection between a hand and a mouse.

(Of course this is not an argument that a mouse in a hand is an object.)
posted by oddman at 10:06 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


This was very interesting, thanks! I think that the focus on the mouse as the tool or tool interface is a bit of a red herring, unless the authors have proof that this is what the subjects were definitely attending to during the breakdown phases of the experiments. The subjects were probably attending to something - the whole system (mouse/screen)? - but the mouse itself? I think that they're assuming that the subjects had a mental model of the technical setup that mirrored the authors' own.

I don't think that this detracts from the overall experiment though, which is interesting.
posted by carter at 10:47 PM on March 13, 2010


LobsterMitten: If the disputed hypothesis is "the mouse and the person become literally one object", then this experiment doesn't settle the question

...

Nope, I'm pretty sure that's not the disputed hypothesis.

Nobody said "the mouse and the person become literally one object." That would be absurd. Nobody is suggesting that when I use a computer my body absorbs the mouse and keyboard.

all this experiment can show is that the person and the mouse are treated by the brain as if they were a single object

...Right. I'm fairly certain that is precisely what they wanted to prove in the first place.

Again, saying "our hands are us" or "the mouse and the person become a single object" isn't "bullshit hyperbole," it's speaking figuratively.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 10:52 PM on March 13, 2010


Cf. Maravita and Iriki, "Tools for the Body (Schema)".
posted by kenko at 11:04 PM on March 13, 2010


Too many beers tonight to really read these in depth, but two thoughts come to mind.

1. The whole Heidegger based extended mind hypothesis depends on some very iffy defintions. What's a experimentally usable definition of "tool"? How you do you consistently define what "ready-to-hand" and "unready-to-hand" are?

2. So you think you have a power law?
posted by afu at 11:04 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nobody said "the mouse and the person become literally one object." That would be absurd. Nobody is suggesting that when I use a computer my body absorbs the mouse and keyboard.

But then why reference Heidegger at all? I thought the whole point of invoking the H-bomb was that this result had ontological significance: we do absorb our tools while using them.
posted by voltairemodern at 11:13 PM on March 13, 2010


Saying "our hands are us" needn't be speaking figuratively—I mean specifically the hands, sure, not us literally. But one's body: one's self! And then the question arises whether the body is individuated via biological contiguity or not. There are strong reasons to deny that such contiguity is either necessary (the article linked in FPP, that linked by me above, various experiments in assisted vision (TVSS, eg) or artificial limbs (such as Andy Clark is on about all the time) or sufficient (the viscera are plausibly not part of the body in the relevant way; this is something Haugeland kinda sorta suggests in one of his articles ("Mind Embodied and Mind Embedded") or is anyway something I'm willing to attribute to him).

Cf. further Gallagher's How the Body Shapes the Mind; Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception (seems to me he should be getting a lot of credit that accrues to the less systematically developed claims of the big H in the early parts of Being and Time).

Lots of developmental studies, especially in the dynamic systems school, provides a way in to thinking about this stuff as well.

PLEASE EXCUSE disorganization; this is in the neighborhood of a bunch of reading I recently did for dissertational purposes.
posted by kenko at 11:14 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought the whole point of invoking the H-bomb was that this result had ontological significance: we do absorb our tools while using them.

That is not the ontological significance you're looking for.

Hammers: not Dasein, never will be.
posted by kenko at 11:16 PM on March 13, 2010


There are strong reasons to deny that such contiguity is either necessary

Who is saying it is necessary?
posted by afu at 11:18 PM on March 13, 2010


Who is saying it is necessary?

Anyone who finds the conclusions of the research under discussion implausible or impossible on the grounds that the tools one uses are separate things from one's body.

(Of course you might also be moved against the conclusions out of a more bloody-minded devotion to the brain above all things—those who think one might as well be a brain in a vat. But that isn't to entertain any thesis about the body's extent.)
posted by kenko at 11:24 PM on March 13, 2010


I mean—there is something superficially acceptable about the claim that a blind man's cane, even while he uses it, is not part of his body. It is hard not to think that this is related to the fact that if you cut it, it does not bleed, nor does he say "ouch". It is not innervated. Etc.
posted by kenko at 11:26 PM on March 13, 2010


Anyone who finds the conclusions of the research under discussion implausible or impossible on the grounds that the tools one uses are separate things from one's body.

To be honest I don't find the conclusion of the research implausible or impossible, I find them boring.

In physiology tools are obviously and mundanely separate from our bodies.

In "folk psychology" it is common to speak of a tool as an extension of the body, particularly with a great artist or athlete.

In the cognitive sciences there has never been a firm divide between body and tool. Even Skinner graphed lever presses as a model of rat behavior for instance.

So I still don't really understand what the dispute is.
posted by afu at 11:36 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


kenko, the argument isn't that things can be equivalent to your body, it's that they can be equivalent to you. That's why it's the Extended Mind hypothesis and not the Extended Body hypothesis.

People seem to have some attachment to a concrete idea of self...
posted by shii at 11:38 PM on March 13, 2010


CitrusFreak, if the only claim is figurative, then the claim is totally uncontroversial. When I use a tool it's a part of me in the sense that I am using it as I might use my hand. Okay, everybody agrees with that sense. But others will claim that no, it's a part of me in literally the same sense as my hand. That's a controversial claim, and I took it that's what the authors here are trying to advocate. (I'm not much on Heidegger, but I know a little about the contemporary extended mind thesis. And I am kind of a stickler and grouch about this stuff.)


oddman says: are you assuming that objects are definitively delineated? Many philosophers will argue that what constitutes an object is essentially arbitrary. In other words there are no joints in nature; objects are demarcated by us solely for our own purposes. If this view is right, then there is no reason not to think of the mouse and the hand as a single object.

Well, sure. If all it requires to say "the tool is literally a part of me" is a change of our reference frame or something along those lines, then again it's not a controversial thesis. If there are objects (real objects, as real as they come, not merely phony quasi-objects) corresponding to every way people might like to split up the world then of course there's some way of splitting up the world that yields me and the mouse being a single object. There's also a way of splitting up the world that yields me and the couch, me and objects I brush against, my right half and the right half of Queen Elizabeth, etc. We wouldn't need to debate the extended mind hypothesis in the first place. But the players in this debate can't hold a theory according to which there's no single right answer to questions like 'is the tool a part of me?" -- they're arguing for and against different answers to that question, and if they thought all answers were equally right (or equally wrong) they wouldn't be doing that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:43 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


We wouldn't need to debate the extended mind hypothesis in the first place.

Ok, that's not quite right.
If we take the extended mind hypothesis as the idea that our mental processes can be/are partly constituted by things outside our heads, then we can still debate it even if there's no single right way of splitting nature at the joints. Because we can look at the inventory of many many overlapping objects in the world, and ask "which of these is my mind?" And the EMH people will say that my mind is a really big floppy object with bits outside my body. And the anti-EMH people will say no, my mind is limited to my body.

Now bed.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:48 PM on March 13, 2010


And the EMH people will say that my mind is a really big floppy object with bits outside my body. And the anti-EMH people will say no, my mind is limited to my body.

Seeing as how Chalmers is a big proponent of dualism, I think that the extended mind is really an attempt to salvage the independence of mind from matter from the ever encroaching advances of neuroscience. So, I think the anti-EMH people are more like, "no, my mind is the function of my nervous system."
posted by afu at 12:05 AM on March 14, 2010


Seeing as how Chalmers is a big proponent of dualism, I think that the extended mind is really an attempt to salvage the independence of mind from matter from the ever encroaching advances of neuroscience. So, I think the anti-EMH people are more like, "no, my mind is the function of my nervous system."

I don't see how EMH discounts dualism... Our cognitive processes could span the entire universe and there would still be the distinction between subjective experience and the objective things that constitute and cause the subjective.
posted by aesacus at 12:47 AM on March 14, 2010


afu,
I think I misread what you posted. I guess I'm not sure what you mean.
posted by aesacus at 12:49 AM on March 14, 2010


I think there has been straightforward empirical evidence for this kind of thing for a long time. It's often pointed out that if you use a stick to, say, test the consistency of ground you're proposing to walk on, after a short while you don't experience the sensations in your hand, but at the end of the stick - it doesn't feel as if you're feeling the motion of the stick and making inferences about the ground, it feels as if you're feeling the ground with the stick.

I think the question is more about how interesting or remarkable this is. Arguably we're quite used to a flexible sense of self: we readily identify with teams or nations; or we project ourselves into puppets or fictional characters. So the fact that we can strongly identify with entities other than our literal physical bodies is not news. It does not mean that our mental activity has no fixed physical basis; quite apart from how we may conceive of ourselves, we know that certain parts of the brain (which ironically, rarely get explicitly included in our self-image) are in fact indispensable to mental activity, and in that sense are where and what we really are.
posted by Phanx at 1:51 AM on March 14, 2010


Could somebody smart please tell us slow folks what this is all about using very small words?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:58 AM on March 14, 2010


afu,
I think I misread what you posted. I guess I'm not sure what you mean.


I'm just musing about the fact that EMH is promoted by Chalmers, who also happens to be a prominent dualist. His particular kind of dualism is a non-theistic theory of "psychophysical laws". Since this theory holds that humans have no unique property which makes they conscious, it becomes clear that to support it, you also need to support a kind of panpsychism, which leads quickly to EMH.

Not sure where Heidegger fits in to everything though.
posted by afu at 3:12 AM on March 14, 2010


Could somebody smart please tell us slow folks what this is all about using very small words? - Maybe. I am interested in the philosophical parts of this, and have some very rudimentary cog psych understandings, but some of the technical parts escape me. But it would be useful to have the cog psych parts explained to me by someone more knowledgable.

One of the authors' main claims
When we use a tool, we get used to using that tool, and so the tool becomes 'invisible' to us as a tool. Philosophically, and terms of phenomenology (e.g. as expounded by Heidegger), we take the tool for granted. One claim that is built on this, is that the tool 'becomes part of us.' This claim has caused some discussion in this thread.

One of the authors' underlying claims
An underlying claim, which could be made clearer (as it is the basis of the experiment), is that when we learn to use a tool, the following happened:
1. We initially pay attention to the tool. We see how it is constituted, how it works, its properties. We experiment with it. We observe effects. We come up with theories about how the tool can be used. We start to use that that tool to things. All this time our attention is one the tool. We explicitly think about what we are doing, in terms of how what we do with the hammer will affect the nail.
2. When we first start to use the tool for work, our attention is on both the tool and the task at hand. As we get used to using the tool, it's performance becomes 'predictable,' and we gradually stop paying immediate attention to the tool itself. I think it's incorrect to say that we stop thinking about the tool, but rather that the thinking takes place in a different part of the brain, that 'brackets off' this thinking from our explicit attention.
3. At the same time, our immediate attention turns to the task at hand. - The particular nail to be hit, for instance. Our immediate attention is now on the nail. We look at the nail, and we ignore the hammer. We no longer explicitly calculate "If I swing the hammer in this way and with this force and from this angle, this will happen to the nail." We just hit the nail with the hammer. The calculation part has become automatic, part of us.
4. This is good until something goes unpredictably. That is, the task situation changes so that our embedded model of the hammer/nail interaction breaks down. Maybe the nail is faulty and bends. Maybe there is a knot in the wood. Maybe we have to hammer in an enclosed space. At this point our attention switches back from the nail, to the hammer. We wonder why it the hammer is not working as predicted. We have to start thinking about the hammer again. As a consequence out attentions switches from the nail.

What the authors are doing
The authors replace 'hammer and nail' with 'mouse and game.' The authors let subjects play a simple computer game, that depends on the spatial manipulation of a cursor point on a screen, using a mouse. It is assumed that the subjects are habituated to using the mouse (I think that this claim is a bit doubtful, actually). Then:
- They let the subjects play the game for a short period.
- At the same time they ask the subjects to count backwards in 3s from 100 (and then 400).
- They inject some unpredictability into the way the cursor moves for a few seconds.
- They observe how people use the mouse.
- They measure how fast they continue to count backwards.

What the authors found
When subjects were having to deal with an unpredictable mouse, their backwards counting proceeded slower than when the mouse was behaving normally.

What the authors conclude
As the subjects learned the game, their attention switched from manipulating the mouse, to moving the cursor on the screen. At the same time, some of their attention went to counting backwards. During the disrupted condition - when the mouse was behaving unpredictably - the counting slowed. The authors hypothesize that this was because the unpredictable mouse caused subjects to focus on the mouse, and pay attention to it, thus siphoning attention from the backwards attention task, and slowing down the counting. I think that this is really what they are proving, as much as anything from Heidegger.

Why there is discussion about this in this thread
There's at least two perspectives on the results. An emic perspective, that suggests that from the subjects' own point of view, the mouse did become part of them - that is, subjects did not think about the mouse when moving it, but focused on the screen. And an etic perspective, which is from an external observer's point of view, in which the mouse remains separate. From this perspective, subjects are still pushing a mouse around. It's possible for both perspectives to be correct I think.

Other people they could have mentioned
They could also have talked about Gregory Bateson in Steps to an Ecology of Mind - who talked a lot about the blind man and the stick metaphor. There's also Michael Polanyi, who talked about tacit knowing (often referred by others as tacit knowledge), and proximal and distal knowing, and attending to tasks. In fact in some ways this experiment seems closer to Polanyi, than to Heidegger to me, especially if attending is taken into account.
posted by carter at 6:06 AM on March 14, 2010 [12 favorites]


afu:To be honest I don't find the conclusion of the research implausible or impossible, I find them boring. . . . I still don't really understand what the dispute is.
But isn't it interesting that there is a dispute? That others don't find it boring?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:28 AM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


*hits self on thumb with hammer*
posted by Wolof at 6:30 AM on March 14, 2010


LobsterMitten: if the only claim is figurative, then the claim is totally uncontroversial. When I use a tool it's a part of me in the sense that I am using it as I might use my hand. Okay, everybody agrees with that sense. But others will claim that no, it's a part of me in literally the same sense as my hand. That's a controversial claim, and I took it that's what the authors here are trying to advocate.

Ok, either I'm misunderstanding you or you're misunderstanding me or both.

When you refer to "the mouse and the person becoming literally one object," what do you mean?

Because I would argue that means, well, LITERALLY one object; as in the mouse is literally absorbed into the body through the skin, or maybe the skin starts to grow over the mouse and blood vessels penetrate it and you have this flesh and bone mouse infused into your hand.

Which is, as I said, completely absurd.

If this IS what you mean when you say "literally one object," and you think this is what the authors are trying to prove, could you direct me to the relevant portions of the links in which they say this?

Because as I see it they really are only saying that the mouse and body become "one" insofar as that is the way the mind perceives and thus controls them.

Am I the only one who thinks this?
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:11 AM on March 14, 2010


Inside or outside of philosophy departments?
posted by warbaby at 8:46 AM on March 14, 2010


Professor Deleuze, please report to the white courtesy telephone. Professor Deleuze to the white courtesy phone.
posted by rusty at 9:12 AM on March 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


CitrusFreak, I wasn't basing that on specifics from the Chemero article (other than the type of phrasing I quoted) - I'm basing it on background knowledge about Heidegger and people who trumpet him, and of what people intend when they're advocating the extended mind hypothesis. (Although I'm being pretty hasty here, so I could be getting something wrong.)

I agree that your reading is the more charitable in one sense because (I agree) it seems totally nutso to claim that I literally have the mouse as a part. But that's what they're claiming, or at least some of them.

By 'literally' I mean the strongest form of that word - literally like the mouse is as much a part of me as my own hand is.

Now, they don't think that it comes to be a part of my circulatory system, they don't think it becomes flesh, or that it becomes surrounded by flesh. But they have a different conception of what it takes for something to literally count as 'part of me', and it's a conception that allows (what I would call) external objects to be literally a part of me (or a part of my mind). They think the more commonplace idea that only my flesh-and-blood parts should count as literal, full, official parts of me is wrong.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:19 AM on March 14, 2010


I want to know if an analogous mental state occurs when tool-using animals use tools.

I'm guessing no -- I bet tool use requires a much greater cognitive load for non-humans, and so it's employed only rarely (and spreads slowly, if at all).
posted by nev at 10:07 AM on March 14, 2010


Here's a snip from the Clark and Chalmers article 'The Extended Mind'. Here they're making the case that our mental states can include things outside our bodies, that for example the contents of a notebook could be literally parts of our minds:
...consider a normal case of belief embedded in memory. Inga hears from a friend that there is an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and decides to go see it. She thinks for a moment and recalls that the museum is on 53rd Street, so she walks to 53rd Street and goes into the museum. It seems clear that Inga believes that the museum is on 53rd Street, and that she believed this even before she consulted her memory. It was not previously an occurrent belief, but then neither are most of our beliefs. The belief was sitting somewhere in memory, waiting to be accessed.

Now consider Otto. Otto suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and like many Alzheimer's patients, he relies on information in the environment to help structure his life. Otto carries a notebook around with him everywhere he goes. When he learns new information, he writes it down. When he needs some old information, he looks it up. For Otto, his notebook plays the role usually played by a biological memory. Today, Otto hears about the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and decides to go see it. He consults the notebook, which says that the museum is on 53rd Street, so he walks to 53rd Street and goes into the museum.

Clearly, Otto walked to 53rd Street because he wanted to go to the museum and he believed the museum was on 53rd Street. And just as Inga had her belief even before she consulted her memory, it seems reasonable to say that Otto believed the museum was on 53rd Street even before consulting his notebook. For in relevant respects the cases are entirely analogous: the notebook plays for Otto the same role that memory plays for Inga. The information in the notebook functions just like the information constituting an ordinary non-occurrent belief; it just happens that this information lies beyond the skin.

[...]Otto is constantly using his notebook as a matter of course. It is central to his actions in all sorts of contexts, in the way that an ordinary memory is central in an ordinary life. ...To say that the beliefs disappear when the notebook is filed away seems to miss the big picture in just the same way as saying that Inga's beliefs disappear as soon as she is no longer conscious of them. In both cases the information is reliably there when needed, available to consciousness and available to guide action, in just the way that we expect a belief to be.

[...] The moral is that when it comes to [what counts as a person's] belief, there is nothing sacred about skull and skin. What makes some information count as a belief is the role it plays, and there is no reason why the relevant role can be played only from inside the body.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:16 AM on March 14, 2010


I want to know if an analogous mental state occurs when tool-using animals use tools.

If the focus/attention of a stick using monkey is on the tip of the stick and where it is wiggling in a tunnel in an ant nest, then the answer might be 'yes.' I don't think that it's really a question of cognitive complexity. Rather, it's a question of the division of cognitive processing between two different processes/states. In one state we are habituated to using tools and use them automatically without paying attention to how we use them as tools. In the other state, something draws the tool itself to our attention, and we lose focus on the task, and transfer our attention to the tool. This can occur in other primates as well.

There's another interesting study on golfers [pdf] which shows that when a golfer talks about putting, and then putts, this decreases their accuracy. The claim is that when you putt skilfully, you use the 'routine' part of your cognition. When you talk about putting, you use a different part of your cognition that specifically reflects on the task of putting (analogous to specifically considering the tool in the mouse/game experiment). By switching to this part of your cognition you are actually overriding the part of your cognition that makes you good at putting. The golf study frames this in terms of switching between 'procedural' and 'declarative' memory.

*abstract
posted by carter at 10:30 AM on March 14, 2010


I feel that when I'm in the "flow" while riding my motorcycle off-road, that it is a part of me. Things happen far too quickly to be processed by the concious brain: hanging on the edge of disaster while ripping it up a bouldery washout is all about instinctal knowledge of the entire organism's capabilities and reactions, including the machine.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:47 AM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


But isn't it interesting that there is a dispute? That others don't find it boring?

But who are the people on the other side of the argument?
posted by afu at 11:40 AM on March 14, 2010


LobsterMitten, I think you're being a touch obtuse here. My take on this is that the article's claims really aren't all that controversial, and you're imagining them to be making absurd[ly controversial] claims and then knocking those down as straw-men.

Note that "literally" only shows up once in each of the FPP's two main links:

From the journal article:
Hammers and other tools that are ready-to-hand are literally part of the cognitive system.
From the Wired write-up:
“The thing that does the thinking is bigger than your biological body,” he said. “You’re so tightly coupled to the tools you use that they’re literally part of you as a thinking, behaving thing.”
So we're clearly talking about mental-state here -- talk of whether the hammer shares one's circulatory system is just ridiculous, of course, and of course you meant it that way.

But, really, I don't think it's so much of a stretch to think of tools as absorbed into our cognitive systems -- as part of us as "thinking, behaving things." Or, rather, it strikes me as equally a stretch to consider our hands or fingers as "literally" part of our cognitive systems, and we don't seem to be willing to give that up.

Our livers or spleens (maybe even our hearts most of the time?), on the other hand, are probably not part of "us" in this sense until something goes wrong...
posted by nobody at 12:24 PM on March 14, 2010


"there is something superficially acceptable about the claim that a blind man's cane, even while he uses it, is not part of his body. It is hard not to think that this is related to the fact that if you cut it, it does not bleed, nor does he say "ouch". It is not innervated. Etc."

This is a nitpick, but all of these claims are true of the blind man's hair and nails.
posted by oddman at 12:26 PM on March 14, 2010


Half of those words in scare-quotes should probably have been italicized instead. I think my point is still clear?
posted by nobody at 12:26 PM on March 14, 2010


Because I would argue that means, well, LITERALLY one object; as in the mouse is literally absorbed into the body through the skin, or maybe the skin starts to grow over the mouse and blood vessels penetrate it and you have this flesh and bone mouse infused into your hand.

Not really. Because what is the body "literally"?
posted by delmoi at 12:56 PM on March 14, 2010


A mass of mostly co-operative organisms trying to get along in the world.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:07 PM on March 14, 2010


So we're clearly talking about mental-state here -- talk of whether the hammer shares one's circulatory system is just ridiculous, of course, and of course you meant it that way.

But, really, I don't think it's so much of a stretch to think of tools as absorbed into our cognitive systems -- as part of us as "thinking, behaving things."


The findings of the experiment are totally plausible - the mind/brain/whatever treats tools the same way it treats body parts like a hand, under the right circumstances. This is an interesting finding and raises all kinds of fun questions. But Chemero characterizes it as showing more than it really shows (I say). Chemero says it proves Heidegger right and that it is evidence for the extended mind hypothesis.

I can't speak to the Heidegger issue, although I'm hard pressed to see how empirical evidence could prove Heidegger right (unless you understand Heidegger in a sort of common-sense paraphrase, to mean that we don't normally attend to tools we're using as if they were objects of interest in themselves -- we just use them -- but that we do attend to them as objects of interest in themselves when something goes wrong - eg when they break. But if you understand Heidegger this way, "proving" him right seems like a very modest accomplishment.)

But the extended mind hypothesis is exactly the claim that one's mind can include things like notebooks and computers if certain conditions are met. I think this claim is far-fetched. To be clear, the figurative claims that we might normally make, "oh, that PDA is my brain" or "good thing Joe's around, I use him to remember things for me" etc - are fine as far as they go. But I don't think they are evidence for the literal claim that a notebook could be part of my mind in the same way physical parts of my brain are. (Many confusing and difficult issues here, but I'm trying to be brief and so am being imprecise.)

I think the claim is far-fetched, and also I don't think these results can show it to be true. The question is what counts as part of me, part of my mind - and the corollary question, by what criteria does something count? And the disputants in this debate differ over what criteria matter, which is a question that can't be resolved by this study.

So, I think in releasing this to Wired etc, Chemero is excited, and of course, he believes the extended mind hypothesis, and so he gives sound bites like 'the mouse is a part of me' which are much sexier sounding than 'the mind treats the mouse as if it were part of me'. But the jump from the latter to the former is unwarranted without a further highly controversial premise (along the lines of 'if the mind treats something as being a part of me, it really IS a part of me, because that's what it takes to be a part of me').

So - I think a soundbite saying that this experiment shows the EMH to be correct is hyperbole. (But of course, it's still a cool interesting experiment)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:18 PM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ok, I'm going to try and weigh in a bit on this one, because I am pretty familiar with idea of the extended mind. Though I haven't read the article carefully, it looks like this experiment with the mouse has no impact whatsoever on the extended mind hypothesis, though it does have an impact on the Heidegger point. I know virtually nothing about Heidegger so I won't say much about it. But it seems the choice analogy is that an invisible tool is like one's own eyes. You don't notice the way your eyes deliver visual reality to you unless they start to go wrong. If this experiment fits this analogy we are justified in saying that the mouse becomes part of your body, where 'body' is defined as just what is phenomenologically given or default, rather than interacted with. The body is not what is the intentional object of the subject's mental state, but rather the means to have an intentional representation of something else.

This takes us somewhat into the territory of the extended mind. The main argument of the extended mind is that you just couldn't have certain mental states or processes without certain interactions with the environment. So I wouldn't be able to possess certain memories without the aid of my notebook, or I wouldn't be able to figure out where the tetris piece fits without turning it around on the screen, or I wouldn't be able to do long division without writing it out on paper. There's no claim here about invisibility of tools. I can be totally clumsy with a tool and still be in an extended mind situation. And really, I don't think the extended mind needs any experimental evidence to support it. We have all the relevant data we need. It's just a matter of reasoning about the most coherent way to identify what counts as mind and what doesn't. If you are a functionalist about mind and you think that whatever delivers the function of a mind counts as a mind, then it seems that some paradigmatic mental functions can be partially delivered by environmental features. And this is not just in the uninteresting sense that I need the notepad to enact some previously realised thought, but that I need the notepad to have the thought at all.

The fluency of using a tool has the biggest impact on my experiential sense of 'where I am' (do I feel like I am 'one with the instrument' etc.). Fluency can also make a difference for the physical constitution of mental states if it results in situations where the tool/environmental feature seems to be in charge of making decisions about what you do that the rest of the system (i.e. your brain/body) just endorses. But it's important to carefully define what mental state is supposed to be extended in these cases- e.g. delivering a representational function v experiencing a representation. Do you really want to say that the notebook/mouse/whatever is part of the subject (rather than the object) of the experience??
posted by leibniz at 1:39 PM on March 14, 2010


As a layperson, this definitely makes sense- if the batteries weenie out in my old wireless mouse, it creates a really similar frustration as when I get uncontrollable panic shakes or an arm falls asleep.

So yeah, nice to see this scientifically supported, but I've known this since the first time I got some keyboard lag in Curse of the Azure Bonds on my sweet Intel-8088-based Epson Equity I.
posted by maus at 1:45 PM on March 14, 2010


a further highly controversial premise (along the lines of 'if the mind treats something as being a part of me, it really IS a part of me, because that's what it takes to be a part of me')

I can't think of any other criteria for saying that something is a part of me other than that my mind thinks it's a part of me. How else would you test this?
posted by ekroh at 2:04 PM on March 14, 2010


Though I haven't read the article carefully, it looks like this experiment with the mouse has no impact whatsoever on the extended mind hypothesis, though it does have an impact on the Heidegger point.

Eh? EMH proposes that 'I' engage in intentional states like believing through tools like a notebook. The mouse is another such tool.

And really, I don't think the extended mind needs any experimental evidence to support it.

Err... I think perhaps you're making a false distinction between a specifically epistemic externalism and a phenomenological externalism that might include other kinds of cognition. Though many of Clark and Chalmers examples are epistemic, the core of EMG is simply: "Cognitive processes ain't (all) in the head!"

Do you really want to say that the notebook/mouse/whatever is part of the subject (rather than the object) of the experience??

Yes. If we start with the experience, the phenomenon, we seem to see that our tools are not objects to which our experience of use refers, but ready-to-hand parts of the unconsidered world through which we garner experiences.

Look, there's a difference between metaphysical identity and phenomenological inclusion. There's a difference between "what it's like" and "what it is" which is why we have quality dualism in the first place. Even if we naturalistically hope to achieve a unification between the 'qualia' and the 'quanta,' we still start with the qualia.

Experience is a distinctly phenomenological category, and trying to force a metaphysics onto phenomenology is where we run into the most problems. "It can't be like that for you because that's not how it is."
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:14 PM on March 14, 2010


I can't think of any other criteria for saying that something is a part of me other than that my mind thinks it's a part of me.

Well, your mind can be wrong about things. A familiar example is optical illusions - your mind/visual system perceive the two lines to be the same length, but really they're not the same length - they're just designed to exploit a tic in your visual processing. Another example might be phantom limbs - where someone's mind/nervous system "thinks" their amputated leg is still attached, and is having an itch or a pain in that leg etc.

If you agree that the mind can be wrong about what's a part of you in some cases, then 'what the mind thinks is a part of you" isn't the last word on the subject. There are other criteria at work.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:26 PM on March 14, 2010


Eh? EMH proposes that 'I' engage in intentional states like believing through tools like a notebook. The mouse is another such tool.

What mental state or process would you say the mouse is extending? Maybe I was too quick to say that the mouse is part of the body rather than self/subject, so long as we define self/subject as 'what is phenomenologically given' in the way I mentioned above (and which you seem to agree with).

Meanwhile an object being a means to have an experience is not the same as an object actually having an experience. Similarly, there's a difference between an object part-constituting the task of seeing, and part constituting the visual state itself. I don't go in for qualia as anything other than representational content, but I'm pretty wary of claiming that any object can so easily constitute a conscious state, which seems to rely on a higher level synchronisation or prioritisation of representations. Even if this is achieved globally, I don't see anything suggesting an object helping to deliver that kind of function.
posted by leibniz at 2:32 PM on March 14, 2010


I'd also add that the temporary use of a tool, however fluent, doesn't fit very well the sense of 'I' as an entity that endures over many years. It seems less exaggerated to say that it extends my agency, or part-constitutes a mental task.
posted by leibniz at 2:40 PM on March 14, 2010


Another example might be phantom limbs - where someone's mind/nervous system "thinks" their amputated leg is still attached, and is having an itch or a pain in that leg etc.

I was actually thinking of a phantom limb as an argument in favor of saying something is a part of the body only if the mind thinks it is. If the mind doesn't treat the leg as part of the body, and the leg is not used and atrophies, by what criteria would you consider it to be a part of the body? Or, why would you say the brain is necessarily wrong?

I'm not sure this is a fruitful argument to have because it ultimately comes down to whether you think thingness and unity are objectively present or whether they are arbitrary distinctions drawn by the mind, but I was just making the point that there is no way to know whether something is part of something else or not unless your mind draws the distinction, and if that is a necessary step then it is possibly the only criterion that matters.

Even in the optical illusion example you are saying that most of the time your mind thinks things are a certain way, and sometimes you can fool your mind into thinking things are different, but because most of the time your mind thinks things are one way then you believe that that is the way things actually are. But isn't it possible for the mirror to be always there? And how would you know the difference?
posted by ekroh at 3:03 PM on March 14, 2010


Sorry, by phantom limb I meant the opposite where a person sees his leg but thinks it is not his.
posted by ekroh at 3:15 PM on March 14, 2010


to a man with a mouse, everything looks like a button. -F. Nietzsche 2.0
posted by yoHighness at 4:46 PM on March 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


How I feel about the findings of this study.
posted by scose at 4:50 PM on March 14, 2010


Where does a body end?
posted by yourcelf at 7:52 AM on March 15, 2010


I think there has been straightforward empirical evidence for this kind of thing for a long time. It's often pointed out that if you use a stick to, say, test the consistency of ground you're proposing to walk on, after a short while you don't experience the sensations in your hand, but at the end of the stick - it doesn't feel as if you're feeling the motion of the stick and making inferences about the ground, it feels as if you're feeling the ground with the stick.

William James brings up this very example in his Principles of Psychology, published in 1890. The "extended mind" hypothesis is just a new name for a very, very old idea. So much of psychology is old wine in new bottles, probably because no-one bothers to read anything published before 1985.
posted by IjonTichy at 10:19 AM on March 15, 2010


This seems to be the passage you talking about IjonTichy:

"The localization of the joint-feeling in a space simultaneously known otherwise (i.e. to eye or skin), is what is commonly called the extradition or eccentric projection of the feeling. In the preceding chapter I said a good deal on this subject; but we must now see a little more closely just what happens in this instance of it. The content of the joint-feeling, to begin with, is an object, and is in itself a place. For it to be placed, say in the elbow, the elbow as seen or handled must already have become another object for the mind, [p. 196] and with its place as thus known, the place which the joint- feeling fins must coalesce. That the latter should be felt 'in the elbow' is therefore a 'projection' of it into the place of another object as much as its being felt in the finger-tip or at the end of a cane can be. But when we say 'projection' we generally have in our mind the notion of a there as contrasted with a here. What is the here when we say that the joint-feeling is there? The 'here' seems to be the spot which the mind has chosen for its own post of observation, usually some place within the head, but sometimes within the throat or breast -- not rigorously fixed spot, but a region from any portion of which it may send forth its various acts of attention. Extradition from either of these regions is the common law under which we perceive the whereabouts of the north star, of our own voice, of the contact of our teeth with each other, of the tip of our finger, of the point of our cane on the ground, or of a movement in our elbow-joint.

But for the distance between the 'here' and the 'there' to be felt, the entire intervening space must be itself an object of perception. The consciousness of this intervening space is tile sine guâ non of the joint-feeling's projection to the farther end of it. When it is fined by our own bodily tissues (as where the projection Only goes as far as the elbow or finger-tip) we are sensible of its extent alike by our eye, by our exploring movements, and by the resident sensations which fin its length. When it reaches beyond the limits of our body, the resident sensations are lacking, but limbs and hand and eye suffice to make it known. Let me, for example, locate a feeling of motion coming from my elbow-joint in the point of my cane a yard beyond my hand. Either I see this yard as I flourish the cane, and the seen end of it then absorbs my sensation just as my seen elbow might absorb it, or I am blind and imagine the cane as an object continuing my arm, either because I have explored both arm and cane with the other hand, or because I have pressed them both along my body and leg. If I project my joint-feeling farther still, it is by a conception rather than a distinct imagination of the space. I think: 'farther,' 'thrice as far,' etc.; and thus get a symbolic image of a distant [p. 197] path at which I point. [57] But the 'absorption' of the joint- feeling by the distant spot, in whatever terms the latter may be apprehended, is never anything but that coalescence into one 'thing' already spoken of on page 184, of whatever different sensible objects interest our attention at once.

From William James, Principles of Psychology, Chapter 20.

It looks to me like his explanation of the phenomenon is rather different than the extended mind hypothesis.
posted by leibniz at 3:16 AM on March 17, 2010


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