Extended Mind

From Cyborg Anthropology
Jump to: navigation, search


If the industrial age is defined by externalization of physical aspects, such as the procurement of a vehicle that allows one’s body to zoom around very quickly while functioning as an extension of the social self, then the information age is defined by the need to transport the mind in an equally fashionable way. Hence, the design of cell phones, laptops and televisions.

Lev Maovich’s Visual Technologies as Cognitive Prostheses: A Short History of the Externalization of the Mind tracks how over the last century and a half visual technologies - from photography and film to contemporary experiments in computer-image systems, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience -- invent or fabricate models through which it becomes possible to “externalize the functions of consciousness.[1] A vehicle itself is a prosthetic device. In the same way that a snail has a shell, a car is a prosthetic that gives one superhuman speed.

The concept of the extended mind was first raised in 1998, right around the time Google was born, by two philosophers named Andy Clark and David Chalmers. In 1998, they published a short essay called The Extended Mind in the journal Analysis. The essay asked, “Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?”[2] Most people might answer, “At the skull.” But philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers set out to convince their readers that the mind is not simply the product of the neurons in our brains, locked away behind a wall of bone. Rather, they argued that the mind is something more: a system made up of the brain plus parts of its environment.

The mind appears to be adapted for reaching out and making the world, including our machines, an extension of itself.[3]

Thus, Humans are “natural-born cyborgs,” and the Internet is our giant “extended mind”.[4] Cyborg Anthropology takes the stance of traditional anthropological methods, plus the fact that the presence of technology in the lives of humans can no longer be ignored. Most of us are low-tech cyborgs, which means that we spend at least some time each day interacting with interfaces and technologies.

For instance, many of us now use our cell phones as day planners, alarm clocks and social connectors. According to research group comScore, Google processed a little over 400 million queries per day in March 2012.[5]

No longer do we need to seek out the nearest phone booth or wait for a specific feature to play in a movie theatre – we can use mobile devices to play a clip, or use communication features to connect anywhere, at any time, in a variety of ways (both textual and auditory). Our ears can reach to the next neighborhood or tory, and many of us now have the ability to be omniscient and omnipresent at the touch of a button. This leads us to a unique moment in human history, the idea that many of us now have the abil-ity to be omniscient and omnipresent at the touch of a button. The omnipresent information net can snap data to us from almost anywhere.

Information has become an extension of our brains into this connected, dynamic 4th dimensional field that we can only see when we ask for a part of it. The entirety of it cannot be felt or accessed at one time, and our interfaces are still limited in the fact that we can only access this data via flat, two-dimensional screens.

This is the technosocial womb, where all things come to a point on the computer screen. Where pizza is delivered with one click, and relationships managed through short exchanges of mobile text. Online, thousands of pounds of information are compressed into server racks and databases waiting to be queried. Those connected to the umbilical cord of data are able to achieve more with less steps. Like omniscient pod-creatures, ears and eyes continuously traversing shifting ground.


  1. Lev Maovich’s Visual Technologies as Cognitive Prostheses: A Short History of the Externalization of the Mind
  2. 2009. Zimmer, Carl. How Google Is Making Us Smarter: Discover. http://discovermagazine.com/2009/feb/15-how-google-is-making-us-smarter
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_Releases/2012/4/comScore_Releases_March_2012_U.S._Search_Engine_Rankings Accessed 14 August 2012.