Thursday, July 31, 2008

Clark and Advanced Cognition

I have a paper out in the South African Journal of Philosophy about Andy Clark's widely-read 1997 work, Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again. My argument, in brief, is that Clark's attempt to explain advanced cognition in terms of the influential view of mind as an embedded 'associative engine' fails dismally. The paper is called "Being Where? Andy Clark and the Problem of Advanced Cognition" (pdf); the abstract follows:
Andy Clark (1989, 1993, 1997) is a leading philosophical exponent of a view of mind as an ‘associative engine’, or connectionist pattern-completer, composed of multiple special-purpose modules that communicate in only limited ways and eschew detailed forms of internal representation. The modules, Clark and his allies argue, are both coordinated and integrated by the environment whilst 'off-loading' onto it by calling on external computational resources (‘external scaffolds’) to reduce cognitive load. Defenders of this position further maintain that even examples of sophisticated and distinctively human cognition such as long-term planning or running a multi-national company emerge from connectionist pattern-completing brains in the ‘constraining presence of public language, culture and institutions’ (1997: 33). This constellation of ideas, Clark argues, amounts to a completely new science of mind that radically reforms ‘our whole way of thinking about intelligent behaviour’. Unfortunately, this rhetoric far outstrips the evidence: while a reasonable case can be made that external scaffolds are necessary for many types of cognition, the assertion that pattern-completion plus external scaffolding is a sufficient explanation of all human cognition has not been demonstrated. The insufficiency of the Clarkian view is particularly evident in the case of advanced cognition in the economic sphere.

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