Minds, things, and materiality

Abstract
In a rich and thought-provoking paper, Lambros Malafouris argues that taking material culture seriously means to be ‘systematically concerned with figuring out the causal efficacy of materiality in the enactment and constitution of a cognitive system or operation’ (Malafouris 2004, 55). As I understand this view, there are really two intertwined claims to be established. The first is that the things beyond the skin that make up material culture (in other words, the physical objects and artefacts in which cultural networks and systems of human social relations are realized) may be essential to the enactment of, and be partly constitutive of, certain cognitive systems or operations. The consequence of establishing this claim is supposed to be that we have a mandate to recast the boundaries of the mind so as to include, as proper parts of the mind, things located beyond the skin. Thus, in talking about the contribution of the world to cognition, Malafouris (2004, 58) concludes that ‘what we have traditionally construed as an active or passive but always clearly separated external stimulus for setting a cognitive mechanism into motion, may be after all a continuous part of the machinery itself; at least ex hypothesi’. This is the position that, in philosophical circles, is known increasingly as the extended mind hypothesis (Clark & Chalmers 1998; Menary forthcoming). Henceforth I shall refer to this hypothesis as EM. A stock example will help bring the idea into view. Rumelhart et al. (1986) note that most of us solve difficult multiplication problems by using ‘pen and paper’ as an external resource. This environmental prop enables us to transform a difficult cognitive problem into a set of simpler ones, and to temporarily store the results of certain intermediate calculations. For the fan of EM, the distributed combination of this external resource and certain inner psychological processes constitutes a cognitive system in its own right.
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