Can Consciousness Extend?

Philosophical Topics 48 (1):243-264 (2020)
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The extended mind thesis prompted philosophers to think about the different shapes our minds can take as they reach beyond our brains and stretch into new technologies. Some of us rely heavily on the environment to scaffold our cognition, reorganizing our homes into rich cognitive niches, for example, or using our smartphones as swiss-army knives for cognition. But the thesis also prompts us to think about other varieties of minds and the unique forms they take. What are we to make of the exotic distributed nervous systems we see in octopuses, for example, or the complex collectives of bees? In this paper, I will argue for a robust version of the extended mind thesis that includes the possibility of extended consciousness. This thesis will open up new ways of understanding the different forms that conscious minds can take, whether human or nonhuman. The thesis will also challenge the popular belief that consciousness exists exclusively in the brain. Furthermore, despite the attention that the extended mind thesis has received, there has been relatively less written about the possibility of extended consciousness. A number of prominent defenders of the extended mind thesis have even called the idea of extended consciousness implausible. I will argue, however, that extended consciousness is a viable theory and it follows from the same ‘parity argument’ that Clark and Chalmers first advanced to support the extended mind thesis. What is more, it may even provide us with a valuable paradigm for how we understand some otherwise puzzling behaviors in certain neurologically abnormal patients as well as in some nonhuman animals.



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Karina Vold
University of Toronto, St. George Campus

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