Aaron Sloman on the Extended Mind – in 1978

It’s easy to be unaware of the fact that notions similar to, if not identical with, the concept of the “extended mind” were in circulation before, say, 1998. Yet there were writers advocating active (as opposed to philosophical) externalism before that date. I have noted before that Tuomela 1989 is one such source:

“The main arguments in [this] paper are directed against the latter thesis, according to which internal (or autonomous or narrow) psychological states as opposed to noninternal ones suffice for explanation in psychology. Especially, feedback-based actions are argued to require indispensable reference to noninternal explanantia, often to explanatory common causes.” — Methodological Solipsism and Explanation in Psychology, Raimo Tuomela, Philosophy of Science Vol. 56, No. 1 (Mar., 1989) , pp. 23-47.

But there is an even clearer statement of the thesis dating back a decade before that, in Aaron Sloman’s The Computer Revolution in Philosophy (available for free here):

“Because these ideas have been made precise and implemented in the design of computing systems, we can now, without being guilty of woolly and unpackable metaphors, say things like: the environment is part of the mechanism (or its mind), and the mechanism is simultaneously part of (i.e. ‘in’) the environment!” — Aaron Sloman, The Computer Revolution in Philosophy: Philosophy, science and models of mind, Harvester Press, 1978, Section 6.5.

Here we have not only the extended mind, but situatedness as well!

Admittedly, not everything Sloman says in that book is friendly to an externalist perspective on mind, but I doubt he would take that to be a criticism.



David Leavens reminded me of Gregory Bateson saying similar things in 1972:

“… we may say that ‘mind’ is immanent in those circuits of the brain which are complete within the brain. Or that mind is immanent in circuits that are complete within the system, brain plus body. Or, finally, that mind is immanent in the larger system — man plus environment .”

In “Intelligence as a Way of Life” (2000), I note, in precisely this context (the precursors of active externalism), that Bateson’s 1971 “The Cybernetics of ‘Self’: A Theory of Alcoholism” says “the mental characteristics of the system are immanent not in some part, but in the system as a whole”, and also:

“The computer is only an arc of a larger circuit which always includes a man and an environment from which information is received and upon which efferent messages from the computer have effect. This total system, or ensemble, may legitimately be said to show mental characteristics”.

I then explicitly link his remarks to Tuomela 1989 and Clark and Chalmers 1998. Thanks again, David.


One thought on “Aaron Sloman on the Extended Mind – in 1978

  1. Richard Menary points out that the position can be traced back to Dewey’s remarks on the reflex arc in 1896. I remember Rolf Pfeifer telling me to have a look at that, and now I see why. However, I can’t find any nice quotes from 1896 concerning extended mind, but from the Introduction to his “Essays in Experimental Logic” (1912) there is this:

    “Upon this view, thinking, or knowledge-getting, is far from being the armchair thing it is often supposed to be. The reason it is not an armchair thing is that it is not an event going on exclusively within the cortex or the cortex and vocal organs. It involves the explorations by which relevant data are procured and the physical analyses by which they are refined and made precise; it comprises the readings by which information is got hold of, the words which are experimented with, and the calculations by which the significance of entertained conceptions or hypotheses is elaborated. Hands and feet, apparatus and appliances of all kinds are as much a part of it as changes in the brain. Since these physical operations (including the cerebral events) and equipments are a part of thinking, thinking is mental, not because of a peculiar stuff which enters into it or of peculiar non-natural activities which constitute it, but because of what physical acts and appliances do: the distinctive purpose for which they are employed and the distinctive results which they accomplish.”

    Thanks, Richard!

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