Andy Clark

Andy Clark

Infobox Philosopher
region = Western Philosophy
era = 21st-century philosophy
color = #B0C4DE
name = Andy Clark
birth =
death =
school_tradition = Analytic philosophy
main_interests = Philosophy of mind Philosophy of Cognitive Science
notable_ideas = Extended mind
influences = Daniel Dennett· Rodney Brooks

Andy Clark is a Professor of Philosophy and Chair in Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Before this he was director of the Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University in Bloomington. Previously, he taught at Washington University at St. Louis and the University of Sussex in England. Clark is one of the founding members of the Contact collaborative research project whose aim is to investigate the role environment plays in shaping the nature of conscious experience. Professor Clark’s papers and books deal with the philosophy of mind and he is considered a leading scientist in mind extension. He has also written extensively on connectionism, robotics, and the role and nature of mental representation.

General Themes

Clark’s work explores a number of disparate but interrelated themes. Many of these themes run against established wisdom in cognitive processing and representation. Typically, our common or ‘folk’ psychology tells us that thinking is a matter of forming veridical representations of the world such that we may properly interact with it. According to this sort of account, when I walk into a room my senses reconstruct a copy of the scene before me in my mind. Thinking becomes a matter of considering this inner model and issuing orders appropriate to my desires. The job of the mind becomes one of constructing accurate representations for processing by some inner executive.

According to Clark, this folk psychological model which forms the basis of much research in Artificial Intelligence immediately involves us in several intractable problems. The greatest of these is an informational bottleneck. If it is the job of the senses to reconstruct an inner model of the real world, there will always be too much that needs to be processed before timely action can take place. For Clark, we really need very little information about the world before we may act effectively upon it. We tend to be susceptible to a ‘grand illusion’ where our impression of a richly detailed world obscures a reality of minimal environmental information and quick action. We needn’t reconstruct the world within, as the world is able to serve as its own best model from which we extract information on a ‘just-in-time’ basis.

This anti-representationalist stance dovetails with Clark’s view on the nature of cognition. If we needn’t posit detailed representations for cognitive processing, we also needn’t posit some sort of Cartesian Theatre where a central executive determines the import of those representations. According to Clark, human cognition is characterized by a series of dynamic feedback loops that span brain, body, and world.

The Extended Mind

Clark is perhaps most famous for his defence of the hypothesis of the Extended mind. According to Clark, the dynamic loops through which mind and world interact are not merely instrumental. The cycle of activity that runs from brain through body and world and back again actually constitutes cognition. The mind, on this account, is not bounded by the biological organism but extends into the environment of that organism. Consider two subjects carry out a mathematical task. The first completes the task solely in her head, while the second completes the task with the assistance of paper and pencil. By Clark’s ‘parity principle’, as long as the cognitive results are the same there is no reason to count the means employed by the two subjects as different. The process of cognition in the second case involves paper and pencil, and the conception of ‘mind’ appropriate to this subject must include these environmental items.

Clark concedes that, in practice, the criterion of equal efficiency is seldom met. Nonetheless, he believes that the boundary of ‘skin and skull’ is arbitrary and cognitively meaningless. If the paper and pencil used by the second subject becomes a virtual ‘paper and pencil’ visible on a monitor and controlled by a silicon chip implanted in the head, the differences between subjects become less clear and Clark’s hypothesis becomes more plausible.

Clark foresees the development of cognitive prosthetics, or electronic brain enhancements, as only the next logical step in the human mind’s natural integration with technology. Clark’s research interests also include wetwiring and other human-electronic integration experiments, as well as technological advances in immediate human communication and their utilization in society.


Books by Andy Clark:
* "Microcognition: Philosophy, Cognitive Science and Parallel Distributed Processing"
* "Associative Engines: Connectionism, Concepts and Representational Change (1993)"
* "Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again (1997)"
* "Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science (2001)"
* "Natural Born Cyborgs (2003)"

Clark is also on the editing boards of the following scientific journals:
*" [ Cognitive Science (journal)]
*"Connection Science"
*"Minds & Machines"
*"Philosophy and Society"
*"Pragmatics and Cognition"
*"Cognitive Science Quarterly"
*"Behavioral & Brain Sciences"

External links

* [ Excerpt from "Natural Born Cyborgs"]
* [ Clark’s papers] available online
* [ Interview with "Future Now"]
* [ Publications]

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