Sutton et al on Adams and Aizawa's critique of "revolutionary" cog sci

We are bewildered at the dialectic on which Adams and Aizawa rely. We are entirely happy to treat study of ‘the kinds of processes that take place in the brain’ as scientifically valid, and to accept intracranial cognition: we have never argued otherwise, and nor to our knowledge has Clark (nor Rowlands, nor Wilson). Cognition is not necessarily or always extended (Wilson and Clark 2009, p. 74; Sutton 2010, p. 191; Rowlands 2010). And even when it is extended, the brain remains a unique part of the extended system, performing operations which are distinct from (though complementary to) those of the external resources (Clark 2010a; Sutton 2010). Adams and Aizawa misunderstand the nature of the extended cognition thesis: the revolutionary flag which they belittle is not one we have ever saluted. In defending a complementarity-based case for extended cognition, neither we nor Clark ally ourselves with radical anti-cognitivism, whether of dynamicist, enactivist, phenomenological, or Wittgensteinian stripe. This is why our version of the thesis has real bite. We may adopt some of the constructive (rather than the critical) aspects of these movements, but ultimately we are playing the same game as Adams and Aizawa: we too maintain a version of the representational-computational theory of mind, even if ours is a somewhat revised and amended version (Clark 2001b).This is why complementarity-based theorists of distributed and extended cognition are in turn sometimes criticised by more extreme anti-cognitivists for “not proposing that the very idea of cognition is itself a mistake,” and because we do “not renounce cognitive science” (Button 2008, pp. 88–89; compare Malafouris 2004, Dreyfus 2007). While we respond vigorously to such critiques, and seek more precisely to differentiate our views from these truly radical alternatives, these critics do in these respects characterize our position more accurately than Adams and Aizawa, who wrongly think that the hypothesis of extended cognition requires wholesale rejection of intracranial cognitive processes and their neural and psychological study.

So Adams and Aizawa first treat extended cognition as a “revolutionary” thesis which denies intracranial cognition, and then suggest that complementarity fails to deliver on the revolutionary promise. They are thus seeking to trap the extended cognition theorist in a dilemma: either maintain the extreme “revolutionary”  position, or collapse back into individualism. But we reject the alleged dilemma. Along with Clark and the others, we inhabit a rich middle ground, one which this paper continues to develop, which is entirely distinct both from internalist forms of cognitivism and from externalist anti-cognitivism. Yet when Adams and Aizawa do accurately acknowledge that our views are not anti-cognitivist, they try to assimilate us to a more conservative internalism. They lump Sutton’s treatment of memory together with the work of Lakoff and Gallagher on embodied cognition as examples “of a non-revolutionary approach” (2008, p. 179). Their aim is to deny the existence of that middle ground, and to assimilate any view which is not radically anticognitivist to a much more orthodox individualism. Sutton’s project, they say, ‘can be undertaken while leaving much of the cognitive psychology of memory as the study of processes that take place, essentially without exception, within nervous systems’ (2008, p. 179). We disagree: this reversion to internalism is not an implication of Sutton’s view. As the cognitive psychological research on memory which we describe below demonstrates, the scientific study of memory is not and should not be restricted to the examination of processes occurring within the brain.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Sutton et al on Adams and Aizawa's critique of "revolutionary" cog sci

  1. Ken Aizawa

    I guess I am going to have to move this paper up on my reading list…

    I have, however, commented on this topic at my blog:
    http://theboundsofcognition.blogspot.com/2010/04/two-types-of-ec-supplementary-and.html

    Folks who were at the ZiF conference last year may remember my having discussed this distinction.

  2. Ken Aizawa

    “We are entirely happy to treat study of ‘the kinds of processes that take place in the brain’ as scientifically valid, and to accept intracranial cognition: we have never argued otherwise, and nor to our knowledge has Clark.”

    Ok. How about this?

    “I’d encountered the idea that we were all cyborgs once or twice before, but usually in writings on gender or in postmodernist (or post postmodernist) studies of text. What struck me inJuly 1997 was that this kind of story was the literal and scientific truth. The human mind, if it is to be the physical organ of human reason, simply cannot be seen as bound and restricted by the biological skinbag. In fact, it has never been thus restricted and bound, at least not since the first meaningful words were uttered on some ancestral plain. But this ancient seepage has been gathering momentum with the ad-vent of texts, PCs, co evolving software agents, and user-adaptive home and office devices. The mind is just less and less in the head.”

    Clark, Natural Born Cyborgs, p. 4.

  3. Ken Aizawa

    Or, maybe this

    “It is our biological nature (as I argue at length in Clark 2003) to be open to many forms of physical and cognitive hybridization. Some of these (I claim) may be so intimate as to effectively extend the thinking agent. All of them are crucial parts of the nested, iterated and ongoing process of cognitive self-re-creation that is the characteristic mark of human intelligence. It is important that we develop an understanding of ourselves (both scientific and philosophical) that is adequate to this open-ended process of physical and cognitive self-creation. To do so means questioning the notions of the mind and person as essentially biological, and recognizing the very large extent to which the commonplace identification of minds and persons with purely biological structures is itself what Locke (1694) termed a ‘forensic matter’: a matter of legal and moral convenience more than metaphysics, and a convenience, moreover, that must become increasingly inconvenient as science and technology progress. (Clark, 2005, pp. 9-10).”

  4. Ken Aizawa

    Or, this

    “I shall argue that there is no theoretically respectable reason for separating the mind off from the world in the way the internalist picture tells us we should. There is, in other words, no theoretically respectable reason for thinking of cognitive processes as purely and exclusively internal items. And to say there is no theoretically respectable reason, here, simply means that there is no reason that can be derived from psychological theory as such. The parsing of the realm of cognition into, on the one hand, cognitive processes that are conceived of as purely internal items and, on the other, external causes, stimuli, orcues of these internal items is not something that is demanded by our theorizing about the mind, but an optional extra. It is a pre-theoretical picture we use to interpret our explicit theorizing, not something mandated by that theorizing. It is, in short, a mythology. ”
    (Rowlands, The Body in Mind, 1999, pp. 12-13)

  5. Ken Aizawa

    Or this,

    “Instead, it [working memory] must be viewed as essentially hybrid, made up of two
    distinct components. In particular, the processes involved in working memory
    must be viewed as made up of both biological processes and processes of external
    manipulation of relevant information-bearing structures in the environment.”
    (Rowlands, The Body in Mind, p. 147)

  6. Ken Aizawa

    “If we accept the picture of a cognitive agent as implementing a discrete cognitive system, before they ever encounter an external vehicle, then we will have accepted the very picture of cognition we set out to reject. This does not fit with the aim of cognitive integration, which is to show how internal and external vehicles and processes are integrated in the completion of cognitive tasks (such as remembering the location of MOMA).” (Menary, Attacking the Bounds of Cognition, p. 333).

  7. Gary Williams

    Ken,

    That is well and good, but you need to respond to this claim:


    we inhabit a rich middle ground, one which this paper continues to develop, which is entirely distinct both from internalist forms of cognitivism and from externalist anti-cognitivism.

    Sometimes, I get the feeling that Clarksian thinkers get confused with the more argumentatively forceful people like Chemero and the “externalist anti-cognitivism” hardcore dynamic systems people who only like to talk about differential equations. Clark has always emphasized that a mature cognitive science should use both sensorimotor connectivity models and representational, information-processing models. If we are going to make sense of human linguistic cognition then we are going to need to invoke symbolic, representational models and, for this reason, the work being done in “orthodox” cog sci is still important and not entirely wrong (but slightly misguided, in my opinion). Both sides are right, but they are wrong to say that they do not need to account for the “other story”, whether it be complete anti-cognitivism or complete cognitivism. We need both. Personally, if I might try forming a label for myself, I am a phenomenological externalist, neuro-biological internalist, sociocultural externalist/internalist, and introspective internalist.

  8. Ken Aizawa

    “That is well and good, but you need to respond to this claim:”

    Dude! I do have to teach, grade papers, do my research, manage my own blog, ride my bike, drink my beer, drink my scotch, and spend time with my wife. It’s going to take me some time to fit in a reply to all this.

    Rant aside, I am just beginning to appreciate some of the depth of differences among the EC people. It’s a huge expanse. You are right that Chemero has a different view, too.

    But, I think that Sutton, et al., are overplaying their hand when they suggest that *their* brand of EC is especially important and that A&A are fools not to see what they are up to. It’s very complicated.

    One of the things that struck me in my Philosophy TV discussion with Mark Rowlands is the extent to which there are parts of his agenda that I do not fully comprehend. I don’t see his program. I only see bits of it. Again another type of EC, it seems to me.

    This is why I’m slogging through all the Gibsonian stuff that I really don’t like. I’m trying to see what’s going on in the background. That takes a lot of time. And Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty? Oy vey.

    Similarly, doing the kind of background reading on memory that it would take to reply to *all* of Sutton’s work would take months.

    And, I do have that stuff to do on multiple realization …

  9. Ken Aizawa

    Ok. So, we do not extremize Clark’s view or Rowlands’ view. I don’t know enough about Wilson’s view to call it. So, Gary seems to be content to buy that. Now, what of the other horn of this putative dilemma:

    “So Adams and Aizawa first treat extended cognition as a “revolutionary” thesis which denies intracranial cognition, and then suggest that complementarity fails to deliver on the revolutionary promise. They are thus seeking to trap the extended cognition theorist in a dilemma: either maintain the extreme “revolutionary” position, or collapse back into individualism.”

    Here I think they simply misread our view regarding the second horn. In their text, they write:
    “Sutton’s project, they say, ‘can be undertaken while leaving much of the cognitive psychology of memory as the study of processes that take place, essentially without exception, within nervous systems’ (2008, p.179). We disagree: this reversion to internalism is not an implication of Sutton’s view.” (Sutton, Harris, Keil, and Barnier, forthcoming, pp. 8-9).

    I think there is a misinterpretation here. The A&A claim, as one can see from the fragment that Sutton, et al., quote, is that Sutton’s project *can* be undertaken … It is not that Sutton’s project requires or implies that cognitive psychology of memory is, or must be, the study of processes that take place, essentially without exception, within nervous systems. We do not propose that it implies internalism. It allows internalism. So, we are *not* putting forth this second horn of the dilemma.

    So, what happens is that this rich middle ground that interests them is simply the stuff we are happy to accept. It’s just not extended cognition in the sense articulated by HEC. And, if you read their text, they seem to be rather dismissive of the disputes between HEC and HEMC. So, as long as they don’t think that their complementarity arguments support HEC, but instead this rich middle ground, then I’m ok with this. I don’t really see why they are bothering to criticize A&A.

  10. Thanks Gary and Ken, great discussion. Gary that paper on Jaynes sounds fascinating, I look forward to reading it. Two quick points Ken, as I too have papers and scotch needing urgent attention.

    First, given your distinction Ken between supplementary and revolutionary EC, I really don’t read any of those quotes you give as revolutionary, ie as arguing ‘that there is no intracranial cognition, only transcranial cognition’. When Clark says the human mind hasn’t been bound by the biological skinbag at least since we started speaking, this means that never (in this period of evolution/ history) has *all* cognition been intracranial (ie, it does not mean that since then there’s been *no* intracranial cognition); there and in the quotes from Rowlands and Menary, as well as that point, are claims about the *diachronic* or *developmental* dependence or integration of mind on or with external vehicles, but those claims are fine for you (or HEMC, or supplementary EC) too. Richard may be closer to the revolutionary view. Anyway, all this encourages us all to be more precise with our operators – I’m sure I’m not.

    So, secondly, I do see Ken that your text means not that my project *requires* internalism but just as you say merely that it *allows* internalism. What puzzled me though is that in that passage and as far as I can see throughout the book you canvas in detail no alternative to internalism other than the ‘revolutionary’ view which, as you accept, I don’t endorse. That’s why we wanted to identify and open up the space for *externalist cognitivism* (a clear and long-established space, at least from Wilson 1994 and Clark 1997) as the other natural, empirically-anchored view which my project both allows and encourages. As well as driving us all to be sharper with our operators when thinking of the metaphysics of mind, the aim of scouting out this middle ground really is to invite your help as well as that of EC folks in seeking to identify the key dimensions on which the strength, intimacy, and nature of distribution or scaffolding varies across contexts or individuals. Thus our worry about your work on this so far is that it doesn’t encourage attention to richer cases of such distribution or coupling, but tends to treat environmental factors as isolated, simply causal inputs rather than as any kind of richer coupling (eg draft p.12 and n.32 on p.22). I look forward too to your reaction to Kim Sterelny’s piece in the same PCS issue, which is also up online there already. Anyway thanks again.

  11. Ken Aizawa

    Hi, John,

    So, let’s take the following from Rowlands,
    ““Instead, it [working memory] must be viewed as essentially hybrid, made up of two
    distinct components. In particular, the processes involved in working memory
    must be viewed as made up of both biological processes and processes of external
    manipulation of relevant information-bearing structures in the environment.”
    (Rowlands, The Body in Mind, p. 147)”

    The mainstream cognitivist view, I take it, is that memory is typically realized in the brain. Here Rowlands is making the very strong claim that memory is essentially realized in the brain, body, and world. Now, even for Rowlands, there is a sense in which he accepts intracranial memory, namely, the sense in which the brain is part of the realization base for memory. But, he also seems to want to deny that memory is only in the brain in the sense that the brain is all there is to the realization base for memory.

    And looking back on Rowlands, I don’t see the developmental angle on this. He’s claiming the mind is essentially hybrid. That seems to me pretty strong.

    Clark does have a bit of wriggle room regarding when cognition began to extend. Fred and I did not really want to get into that. We’ve framed this issue about cognition here and now. Not in the past, not in the future. On this, Clark and A&A disagree. Clark, in the passage cited, thinks that now cognition is typically realized by brain, body, and world, where A&A think that now cognition is typically realized by the brain.

    Now, it’s true that A& have not written much about Rob Wilson’s stuff or your work on memory or Sterelny’s work, but there’s just a lot to keep up with. Every now and then I think I’ll need to try to write another book on EC, etc.

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