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Does the brain contain the mind or does the mind extend beyond the brain?

June 8, 2010

Response from Charles Taliaferro on June 10, 2010
GREAT question! Most philosophers today in the English speaking world are materialists of one sort or the other. And so, they would hold that (to use your terms) the brain contains the mind or the brain is the mind or the person is the body, and so on. Those who hold that the mind (again, to use your terms) extends beyond the brain may still be materialists. Lynne Baker, for example, contends that the person is composed of the body as a whole (not just the brain), but she is still a materialist, and not a dualist. As it happens, I adopt a very unpopular position: integrative dualism, the view that while the person and body are a functional unity, the person (or mind or self) is not identical to her body or a body part (the brain). Arguments over theses positions would take us deep into the philosophy of mind literature. For a defense of integrative dualism, keep your eyes open for The Soul Hypothesis, ed by Stewart Goetz and Mark Baker (London: Continuum Press, forthcoming).
Response from Amy Kind on June 15, 2010

Hmmm... did you submit your question via the new iPhone app by any chance? I ask because some philosophers have recently argued that the way that we use certain tools, like iPhones for example, extends our cognitive processing, and thus the mind, out into the world. Is there really a difference between the memories we store in our brains and the "memories" we store in external devices? When someone on the street asks you whether you know the time, you might answer affirmatively even though you have to consult your watch (or your phone) to tell them what time it is. You know the time in the sense that it is accessible to you. Likewise for the contacts that you have committed to iPhone memory rather than biological memory.

Were someone to have a memory chip implanted in her brain, we might well accept that as part of the mind even though it is nonbiological. But why should it matter whether the chip is implanted in the brain. Couldn't it function the same way if it were outside the brain, outside the skull even? Why should the boundaries of skull and skin matter so much? So if we can imagine someone who becomes so reliant on the info she keeps stored in her iPhone, say, that it really functions for her analogously to the way that her biological memory functions, then perhaps we would want to say that her mind too extends beyond the boundaries of skull and skin, into the world.

An excellent treatement (and defense) of these issues can be found in Andy Clark's book, Natural Born Cyborgs.

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