Christianity and the Extended-Mind Thesis
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: James Stump and Alan Padgett, editors, The Blackwell Companion to Christianity and Science, pages 491–499. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. The extended-mind thesis belongs to cognitive science. Although the background assumptions of cognitive science are far removed from those of Christianity, Christians may wonder whether the Extended-Mind thesis is even compatible with Christianity. Investigation of the compatibility of Christianity and the Extended-Mind thesis is made more difficult by the fact that there is not just one thesis labeled ‘the Extended-Mind thesis’, but at least two theses to be disentangled.
  2. The family of theses called ‘the Extended-Mind thesis’ share, I believe, an assumption. The common assumption is that…
      certain forms of human cognizing include inextricable tangles of feedback, feedforward, and feed-around loops: loops that promiscuously criss-cross the boundaries of the brain, body, and the world. The local mechanisms, if this is correct, are not all in the head. Cognition leaks out into body and world. (Andy Clark 2008, xxviii)
  3. I’ll call the general approach to the mind as having the capacity to extend out into the environment, beyond the brain and body, ‘EM’ for ‘The Extended-Mind Thesis.’ EM is really a family of theses that has two main branches — claims about cognitive processes and states and claims about the subjects of those processes. Neither of these claims is straightforwardly confirmable or disconfirmable, inasmuch as both concern how to conceptualize processes and their subjects. What is new about EM are not empiricial data, but how to think about the data.
  4. After saying what I find appealing in EM, I shall suggest what a Christian like me might say about several versions of EM theses. Then, I’ll make an important distinction that I think has not been given enough attention in cognitive science — a distinction between personal and subpersonal levels of reality. I’ll use the personal/subpersonal distinction to show how what I find appealing in EM can be accommodated by Christians.
  5. Now turn to some features of the extended-mind thesis that some find attractive.
    1. First, EM makes it essential to us that we have bodies, but not that we have the all-organic bodies that most of us now have.
    2. Second, EM emphasizes our integration into our environments. As an externalist in philosophy of mind, I believe that our intentional mental states are ontologically dependent on the environment (Baker 2007a; Baker 2007b); this externalism is congenial to the hypothesis that many physical mechanisms of mind are not all in the brain.
    3. Third, EM leads to a way to understand the amazing innovations of biotechnology. Recent advances in biotechnology — from cochlear implants, to all manner of brain-machine interfaces that allow monkeys to move paralyzed limbs at will — suggest that the physical mechanisms of mind need not all be organic either. The increasing integration of the biological with the nonbiological makes the line between them very faint.
  6. Here are a couple of examples:
    1. Graeme Clark, inventor of the cochlear implant, envisions new field of “medical bionics” which will produce, among other things, bionic nerve and spinal repair for paraplegia and quadripledia, a bionic eye for blindness, bionic bladder neck for control of incontinence, bionic muscles and implantable bionic sensors.(Graeme Clark 2007, 78)
    2. Another fertile ground concerns on brain-machine interfaces. John Donoghue has developed a neural implant — a “neuromotor prosthesis” — and connects them to a robotic prosthesis that will allow a paralyzed patient to move her limbs. “We’re effectively rewiring the nervous system — not biologically but with real wires,” says Donoghue. (Sender 2004, 74-75)
  7. Like the Copernican hypothesis and numerous other surprising empirical hypotheses, the hypothesis that the mechanisms of cognition may have components that are not neural, and not even biological, should be dealt with by Christianity. I want to show how one version of the Extended-Mind thesis may be used to accommodate biotechnology in a way that is compatible with Christianity. To do this, I’ll canvass the two main streams of EM.


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