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Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (Philosophy of Mind) [Paperback]

Andy Clark
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 31, 2010 0199773688 978-0199773688
When historian Charles Weiner found pages of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman's notes, he saw it as a "record" of Feynman's work. Feynman himself, however, insisted that the notes were not a record but the work itself. In Supersizing the Mind, Andy Clark argues that our thinking doesn't happen only in our heads but that "certain forms of human cognizing include inextricable tangles of feedback, feed-forward and feed-around loops: loops that promiscuously criss-cross the boundaries of brain, body and world." The pen and paper of Feynman's thought are just such feedback loops, physical machinery that shape the flow of thought and enlarge the boundaries of mind. Drawing upon recent work in psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, robotics, human-computer systems, and beyond, Supersizing the Mind offers both a tour of the emerging cognitive landscape and a sustained argument in favor of a conception of mind that is extended rather than "brain-bound." The importance of this new perspective is profound. If our minds themselves can include aspects of our social and physical environments, then the kinds of social and physical environments we create can reconfigure our minds and our capacity for thought and reason.

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Editorial Reviews


"brilliant...[providing] the best argument I've seen for the idea that minds are smeared over more space than neuroscience might have us believe" --New Scientist

"Supersizing the Mind is an important book for cognitive-science theorists of all stripes.... Although traditional and radical theorists are likely to remain unconvinced, there can be no doubt that Supersizing the Mind will set the terms for many of the coming debates." --Times Literary Supplement

" offers original thinking in the philosophy of mind, and it is highly recommended for academic collections in that subject." --Library Journal

"In Supersizing the Mind, philosopher Andy Clark makes the compelling argument that the mind extends beyond the body to include the tools, symbols and other artefacts we deploy to engage the world.... Supersizing the Mind is a treat to read. It is brimming with remarkable ideas, novel insights and amusing language." --Nature

About the Author

Andy Clark is Professor of Philosophy, Edinburgh University. Author of Being There, and Natural Born Cyborgs.

Product Details

  • Series: Philosophy of Mind
  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (December 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199773688
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199773688
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #562,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Andy Clark's unfortunately-titled Supersizing the Mind sounds at first like some sort of awful self-help book, like one of those "play Bach for baby in the womb" treatises.

But of course it is nothing like that. It is the latest of the prolific Clark's manifestos in support of what is more generally known as the Situated Cognition Movement [cf. The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition], of which he is a founder. It is expansive and well-written.

Without wading into the detail (which, n.b., you will have to do if you read the book) this movement looks at the mind in the context of not only the brain but also the body and the environment in which the body wanders. It presents a strong contrast to computational models of the mind that are mostly about abstract representations and algorithms, i.e., Turing Machine implementations of intelligence.

I am sympathetic to Clark's approach and so did not read Supersizing the Mind as critically as I might have. If you are interested in understanding where some of the key arguments in modern cognitive science reside, I can recommend this book wholeheartedly. Clark does a clear and fair job of explaining both himself and his critics.

But it is important to remember that Supersizing the Mind represents a point in time. In five years the field will have moved on in terms of research and challenges to both old and new approaches to understanding intelligence. So get it while you can; otherwise wait for Clark's next.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extend Your Mind: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know December 19, 2008
One of the common failings of philosophy books is they try to do too much. Often the urge to prove everything is driven by the need to prove one's self, a justification of one's current philosophical position, sometimes of a whole career. "Supersizing the Mind" is not only an exception, it is an exceptional achievement in the breadth and depth of its scholarship and the concise quality of its exposition. Clark successfully makes the case for the Extended Mind -- and defends it equally well against its critics. He achieves this in little more than two hundred pages. A writer with less ability and more ego might have imposed (literally) the gravitas of a thousand pages to parade the extent of his erudition. If I have any criticism, it's that Clark writes too well to bury his insights beneath a mountain of references. The book contains so many enjoyable sentences, I wish he would produce another work filled with more of these and fewer endnotes. I suspect there is an audience for such a non-academic paper; perhaps a long Wired article. It would advance the popular case for the Extended Mind. Meanwhile, read "Supersizing the Mind." The quality of Clark's writing alone makes it worthwhile.
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39 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Significant Defense of the Extended Mind January 24, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
One of the tricks in philosophy is to take a vague concept and pump the hell out of it. The mind is one of those dangerously vague folk psychology concepts along with self, consciousness, awareness, and most of the buzz words in Cognitive Science. So what one seeks to do is to whittle down the concept to get the bark off and find the essential core. Then and only then does it seem legitimate for one to work on what it would mean to extend it, whatever "it" is. But how long do we have to wait for the 'reductionist' Churchlands to whittle things down and solve that riddle?

Andy Clark has, by the accident of our history, been handed a hot potato in that mind is one of those "it"s that no one knows really what it is. So it is essential that we move to the biological neurological explanation of what "it" is as best we can. That is not what Andy is doing here, and he knows it. But what's the man to do? The problem is that mind appears to be a supervened phenomena which you are not likely to find in some lobe in the brain. Given that, what Andy has done is to work with what we know about the mind so far and he does tap into a lot of empirican studies that have been completed over several decades.

And he also knows when to stop. For example, he mentions extension of the mind into society, a social sense of the extended mind, but leaves that topic for a later book. Just as well as Alvin Goldman and Frederique de Vignemont are already guarding the gates to that temple with their rejection of the Embodiment of Mind in Society. It will take some interesting new arguments, perhaps from an evolutionary anthropological point of view (Sarah Blaffer Hrdy?) to find a way in.

They are not alone.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Can't Make Up His Mind August 20, 2013
This book doesn't do what I thought it would. I presumed it would be developing the evidence and arguments for extended and situated cognition - following on from Clark and Chalmer's influential paper of 1998 - but most of it instead lays out reaction to that initial excursion and appears considerably more conservative.

Now I review the contents page, I can see that this withdrawal toward the traditional position is actually part of the structure of the book. Section I: From Embodiment to Cognitive Extension is a progressive deployment of cognition outward, into the `external' world. Sections II and III, however: Boundary Disputes and The Limits of Embodiment - that is from page 85 to 217, i.e. the rest of the book - mostly review, and to a large part concur with, arguments against the cognitive excursion of the initial adventure. Indeed, by the concluding chapters, Clark is largely tempted to re-inter cognition; not only in the head but to some supervenary, inwardly contained executor, in withdrawal from embedded and extended engagement. Instead of supersizing the mind, he shrinks it, to:

`...a certain higher-level information processing poise, itself essential for conscious experience, is achieved. The kind of poise required will vary from case to case but will typically be pitched at some remove from the full details of our active sensorio-motor repertoire.' [p195]

Clark acknowledges that:

`...the broad notion of a relatively high-level executive interaction between conscious seeing and fine-grained motor control is highly attractive.'[189]

This increasing focus on a causally detached executor [albeit embodied in the brain] seems to forget the expressive, outward looking enthusiasm with which he began:

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